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Ana Judith Román-García (1930- )

Her mother taught elementary school and her father drove a truck, and only finished the eighth grade. Yet Román-García rose above humble beginnings to become an epileptologist known both locally and internationally for her leadership and commitment to education, patient care, and diversity – and the first female neurologist in Puerto Rico.

"En la medicina es muy importante abrir los libros, pero es más importante abrir los cinco sentidos y matizarla con humanismo y sus aspeticos éticos."

Ana Judith Román-García was a gifted child, placed in the second grade at only four years of age. She continued her accelerated education, and enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico when she was 14 years old. During her undergraduate studies, her father became ill with congestive heart failure, and the experience inspired her to study medicine.

 

At the time, there were no medical schools in Puerto Rico. The 18-year-old Román-García applied to Meharry Medical College and Howard University, two historically Black medical schools in the mainland United States – but she was rejected for being too young. 

She was persuaded (by her younger sisters’ music teacher) to attend medical school in France. She flew to New York City, then took a boat to Paris – where she struggled, attending medical school classes held entirely in French. After her first year, she transferred to the Université de Montpellier in southern France, where she excelled. 

In 1958, the University of Puerto Rico hired Luis P. Sanchez Longo (1925-2016) as the first formal neurologist in Puerto Rico. Román-García had returned to Puerto Rico after graduation and was working as head of the Department of Medicine at Fajardo District Hospital. She decided to pursue neurology, completing her residency in 1964. This was the same year that Audrey Penn (1934- ) completed her neurology residency at Columbia University, making the two women the first Black female residency-trained neurologists. 

To her surprise, Román-García received a scholarship from Harvard for subspecialty training in clinical electrophysiology. – without even applying – and briefly left her husband and two children to spend a year at Massachusetts General Hospital. 

 

She returned once again to Puerto Rico, where she became well-known as an excellent clinician and educator. She became a full professor of neurology at the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine,  and developed their program in clinical neurophysiology and electroencephalography. She directed the EEG Laboratory at the Puerto Rico Medical Center until 1995. 

Román-García has been invited to speak at conferences both locally and internationally. She is a founding member of the Sociedad Puertorriquena de Epilepsia (the Puerto Rican Society for Epilepsy) and a founding member of the Fundación Puertorriqueña de Parkinson (the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation of Puerto Rico). She was an advisor to the Superior Court of San Juan, and served on the Medical Licensing Board for 5 years. 

Her students and colleagues know her as a lively, intelligent person, who can cook, knit, and embroider. An avid learner even in her 90s, she is taking piano lessons, studying fabric painting, and learning to tap dance.  

Torres Gotay, Benjamin (2016, October 30). Ana Judith Román: pionera en la neurologia. El Nuevo Dia

Essay by Sasha Alick-Lindstrom, MD and Alison Christy, MD, PhD