Barry S. Rothman, Ph.D. { Health Professions Home Page}

Image: Health Professions at San Francisco State University

Barry S. Rothman, Ph.D.

Biographical Information

I was born and raised along the western edge of Philadelphia, PA, in a mixed blue-collar, white-collar neighborhood. My father was a salesman and small business-owner; and my mother was a home-maker who later became an accomplished businesswoman and one of the first female arena-managers. I attended Overbrook High School, a highly diverse public school, and was a member of their citywide championship track team for two years. I then attended Haverford College, a small liberal arts men's school at the time. My college education was paid for by a combination of scholarships, loans and money I earned through tutoring high school students and taking on summer jobs in factories. I majored in Biology because I loved the way life could be understood in such intimate chemical detail. Despite being only five miles from my high school, Haverford was separated from Overbrook by a huge cultural gap; most Overbrook students were African-Americans that came from working-class families, whereas most Haverford students were European-Americans that came from affluent families; about half of them had attended private high schools (prep schools).


I then moved to Pasadena, CA, to attend CalTech, from which I received a Ph.D. in Biochemistry with a minor in Neurophysiology in 1976. My entire graduate school education and a modest stipend were paid for by training and research grants awarded to CalTech by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). I am deeply grateful for this support and the opportunity to participate in a superb research environment. My doctoral thesis explored the roles of RNA and protein synthesis in the maintenance of circadian rhythms, using the marine snail Aplysia as a model organism. The cultures at Caltech and Haverford were also vastly different; Haverford was small, offered a large array of majors and was located in an idylic, affluent suburban setting, whereas CalTech was larger, focused almost entirely on science and engineering and was located within the huge LA basin. While living in Pasadena, I visited the San Francisco Bay Area on a number of occasions. The culture and physical beauty of this area attracted me so powerfully that I vowed to live there.


After CalTech, I was a Post-Doctoral Fellow from 1976 to 1978 at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, TX. My research was divided into two projects: 1) interactions between mammalian neurons and glia in tissue culture, and 2) investigation of the neurophysiology of the swimming behavior of a local Aplysia species; it was supported by NIH- and NIMH-funded reasearch grants to my PIs and a National Research Service Award (NRSA) that paid my stipend. Here I taught my first college class, Circadian Rhythms, at a branch of the University of Houston located in Clear Lake City (UHCLC). Yet again I had to make adjustments to a very different cultural setting, as Galveston was a small southern town that had become overshadowed by Huston, its neighbor 60 miles to the north.


My dream to live in the San Francisco Bay Area came true when I met Earl Mayeri at a Society for Neuroscience meeting. In April, 1978 I became a Post-Doctoral Fellow and later an Assistant Research Physiologist in Earl's lab within the Department of Physiology at UC San Francisco. This was a very productive partnership because we were able to combine biochemical (me) and electrophysiological (Earl) approaches to the identification of peptide neurotransmitters in Aplysia. In 1986, wanting very much to remain in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was quite fortunate to obtain a tenure-track faculty position in the Biology Department at SF State University.


At SF State, from 1986 until 1993, I ran a research laboratory that investigated the degradation of peptide neurotransmitters, a continuation of the work done at UC San Francisco. This work was supported by a Resaerch Career Development Award and an RO1 grant from NIH. Because of my intense research focus during this period, I taught only one or two classes per year. However, by 1993 I realized that although I could supervise undergraduate and graduate research assistants, get grants and co-author journal articles, conducting research was not deeply fulfilling. Having become a tenured Professor in the Biology Department the year before, I shifted my focus to teaching, which I had greatly enjoyed as a tutor at Haverford and as an instructor at UHCLC and SF State. Looking back over my 30+ years at SF State, I have taught courses at all levels of the curriculum: non-major's, lower-division major's, upper-division major's, and graduate major's.


In 1995, having taught within the Physiology curriculum at SF State, and having by then developed a strong interest in molecular medicine, I was invited to become SF State's Health Professions Advisor. At the time I thought this was an interesting "sideline" to my teaching and would require a small amount of effort. But, as I began to understand the health profession school preparation and application processes, and work closely with pre-health students, I realized that I was very interested in and well suited for this undertaking: I knew how to teach effectively, I understood group dynamics (my wife is a psychotherapist, I was a leader in a peer-counseling group for many years and I've been in a men's group for over 36 years) and I felt a strong connection with underrepresented and socioeconomically disadvantaged students. I also began to better understand the US healthcare system, including its towering strengths and apalling weaknesses, and wanted to do something to help improve it.


From 1997 to 2004 I was Co-Director (with a faculty member in SF State's Social Work Department) of a federally funded Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP), which helped disadvantaged undergraduates prepare for careers in health professions. In June 2006 I founded SF State's Pre-Health Professions Certificate Program, a one- to two-year, self-funded Formal Post-Baccalaureate Program run through the College of Extended Learning. I was this program's Director until May, 2015, when I semi-retired. Once this program was in place I founded and directed three additional programs: 1) June 2007 until May 2015 - The SF State-University of the Pacific Dental Post-Baccalaureate Program that served about 16 disadvantaged pre-dental students each year. 2) June 2007 until May 2015 - The Summer Science Institute that served about 20 disadvantaged pre-health undergraduates each year. 3) June 2012 until May 2015, SF State's Pre-Nursing Post-Bac Program, a 15-month, self-funded Formal Post-Baccalaureate Program run through the College of Extended Learning that admits about 20 students each year. The synergistic interactions among all four programs created an enriched environment and many employment opportunities for SF State students preparing to enter the health professions. I also believe that the business settings to which I was exposed as a child, adolescent and young adult provided valuable skills used much later to run these programs. From September 2010 until August 2014, I again received HCOP funding in partnership with the Stanford University School of Medicine and the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.


Due to the increased size of the Formal Post-Bac Program, I created a Leadership Team to help coordinate it and the three programs with which it interacted at that time (Dental Post-Bac Program, Summer Science Institute and Pre-Nursing Post-Bac Program). The Team consisted of Shannon Anderson, Ph.D., Michael Small, Ph.D., Luna Abdallah, Ph.D., Rachel Small, M.S. and Meena Tappouni, D.M.D.


I multiplied my efforts through leading SF State’s Health Professions Advising Committee (HPAC), a coalition of faculty, staff and about 25 paid and volunteer post-baccalaureate and advanced undergraduate pre-health students. HPAC promoted and monitored most of the health professions activities on campus. HPAC’s major thrusts were: 1) Developing and offering an Introduction to Health Professions course (Sci 239) for freshmen and sophomores, 2) Developing and offering the Health Professions Colloquium (Sci 695), 3) Supporting pre-health student organizations, 4) Coordinating a large number of extramural clinical opportunities for SF State students, 5) Creating a well-trained student staff to offer academic and health career advising that supplemented my office hours, and 6) Creating a regular Health Professions Speakers Series.


In May, 2012, I was presented with an SF State Distinguished Faculty Award. This award is presented each year to three SFSU faculty members, one in the area of Professional Development, one in the area of Teaching and one in the area of Service. My award was in the area of Service, in recognition of my creating the Formal Post-Bac Program, Dental Post-Bac Program, Summer Science Institute and Pre-Nursing Post-Bac Program, as well as a number of other contributions. The formal award presentation was held on September 31, 2012.


Semi-Retirement: In June, 2015, at age 67, I stepped down from directing the post-bac programs and Summer Science Institute, and began the process of "semi-retirement." Until May 2020, I worked at SFSU half-time as part of the Faculty Early Retirement Program (FERP). In this capacity, I advised post-bacs and undergarduates, and I taught the undergraduate version of Cellular Neuroscience (Bio 640) during the fall and Molecular Pathophysiology (Bio 615) during the spring. My FERP ended in May, 2020.


The Formal Post-Bac Program and Pre-Nursing Post-Bac Program are now being run by Rachel Small, M.S., Director, and by Dr. Michael Small and Dr. Luna Abdallah, who continue as members of the Leadership Team. These two programs are supported by Dr. Carmen Domingo, Dean of SF State's College of Science and Engineering.


Semi-Retirement After FERP: Since May 2020, I have been teaching as a lecturer in the Formal Post-Bac Program that I created in 2006 and ran for 9 years. It has been quite satisfying to come full circle, back to the program I care about so dearly. This summer 2020, I have been teaching Cell Biology online to a group of 10 bright and highly motivated post-bacs, and in fall 2020 I expect to teach Cardiorespiratory Physiology to a similar group of post-bacs. Teaching a course entirely online presents some challenges, especially in creating a cohesive learning community. I have been approaching this issue by spending time in and outside of class getting to know my students, using Zoom break out rooms during class and promoting students working with and learning from each other.


Paid Consultant: In June 2015, I began working as a paid consultant for, an onlione resource for people who need help with any or all aspects of the health professions and graduate school application process. Please contact me at if you would like to hire me.


Personal Interests: With the time freed up by semi-retirement, I have opened up new areas of interest and expanded on old ones. These include yoga, meditation, Japanese language and culture and men's support groups. Until the COVID pandemic, I had been attending about four yoga classes per week, a process that very positively influenced my mind, body and spirit. And, as a devotee to Vipassana (mindfulness) meditation, I attended weekly meetings at my sangha and attended five seven-day silent meditation retreats. These undertakings have strengthened my spirit and concentration. Now, during the pandemic, I practice yoga at home using an online app, and participate in online meditation retreats throughout the world. My interest in Japanese language and culture began 19 years ago when my daughter-in-law, a native of Okinawa, joined our family. For three years I had a close friendship with a Japanese SF State undergraduate, and over the past five years I have had four Japanese language partners through the English in Action program run by Stanford University. For over 37 years, I have been a member of a men's support group; together we've gone through a lot of changes and shared many challenges,


Looking back at my career, I see that I have not followed a linear path. My decisions have been guided more by intuition and introspection than by obligation or force of will. I sincerely hope that the investments that were made in my research and teaching careers have paid off through my close work with pre-health students, especially disadvantaged ones, and that I have made a contribution toward the training of future healers, scientists and the improvement of our health care system.


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