New! Spotlight on Medical Power Couples: Their Extraordinary Lives

Alicia Gallegos

Disclosures

June 16, 2021

Paul Klotman, MD, and Mary Klotman, MD

Paul Klotman, MD, and Mary Klotman, MD, pose for a 2002 photo while on a visit to Barcelona for an international AIDS conference.

When Mary Klotman, MD, was offered an opportunity with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1991, Paul Klotman, MD, didn't hesitate to resign his post at Duke University and join his wife in Washington, DC. Paul says he wanted to support Mary's aspirations, even though it meant an uncertain track for his own career.

Fortunately for the Klotmans, the move proved instrumental for both of their careers and spurred one of their proudest scientific breakthroughs.

At NIH, Mary was a member of the Public Health Service and worked in the laboratory of tumor cell biology, and Paul became chief of the institute's molecular medicine section in the laboratory of developmental biology. Together, their work led to the first animal model of HIV-associated nephropathy using transgenic techniques. The Klotmans and their team demonstrated that HIV resides in and evolves separately in kidney cells, a critical step in HIV-associated kidney disease.

"That's where our longstanding collaboration around HIV-associated nephropathy started," Mary says. "Paul and I have a passion for research, and we've had the same grant together for 25 years."

After their successful stint at NIH, the Klotmans next climbed the ranks at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai where Paul started as chief of the nephrology division and became chair of medicine, and Mary became chief of infectious diseases and co-director of Mount Sinai's Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute.

Today, Mary and Paul are the first — and only — married couple in the United States to lead separate medical schools. Mary is dean and vice chancellor for health affairs at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, and Paul is president and executive dean of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

Despite their 1100-mile separation, the Klotmans manage their relationship in an unconventional way that some might balk at: Every Friday, one spouse hops on a plane and travels to the other for a date night and weekend.

"When we started this crazy lifestyle, we committed to being together every weekend," says Mary. "And in 10 years — before COVID — we missed only one weekend together."

The Klotmans say the scheduled time together places a hard end to each work week and enables them to truly enjoy their quality time.

"Friday at noon, I'm on the plane going to Durham and I know that in 2 hours I'm going to have a date with my wife," Paul said. "There are institutions that we've run into that think you have to be 7 days a week on site. But Duke and Baylor have been very supportive [of our situation]."

Paul Klotman, MD, and Mary Klotman, MD, on a visit to New York during the holidays.

No doubt, the arrangement means a lot of time in the air for the couple. Paul says he travels about 150,000 miles every year by plane.

Having dual leadership positions in academic medicine has kept the Klotmans tightly connected, and the couple says their strong partnership has contributed to their success.

"It's really been helpful having a deep understanding of our career paths because we've been able to understand when one of us needed to be really focused on work and the other one would step back a bit with the kids and vice versa," Mary said.

"There's no question that we wouldn't be in the positions we are in now if it weren't for the fact that we've had each other," Paul said.

In Their Own Words

What is a little-known title that you have?

Paul: Purse-carrier for my wife. When she is honored at a national meeting or event, she often stands up and hands me her purse. I now make sure I have on an appropriate outfit that matches the purse.

Tell us about your children.

Mary: We had a very traumatic first pregnancy that we lost. Six years later, we adopted our first child, which was an amazing blessing. Our second son was Duke's first successful frozen embryo transfer.

Describe a memorable moment in your relationship.

Paul: As we were leaving for our honeymoon, Mary's dad handed me this booklet. It was the receipts for Mary's medical school loans for the next 10 years. He said, "Congratulations, she's all yours!"

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