Making a Difference Through Teaching and Research | PCOM’s Dr. Hatcher
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Making a Difference Through Teaching, Research and Service 
Black History Month

February 16, 2024

Dr. Hatcher in foreground of laboratory with students working in backgroundCathy J. Hatcher, PhD, associate professor of physiology, in the lab with her students.

As a fourth grader, Cathy Hatcher, PhD, remembers sitting in her parents' car, waiting in long lines for them to fill up their gas tank. It was the late 1970s and there was a gas crisis with odd-even rationing in place. Depending on whether the last digit of your license plate began with an odd or even number, you’d be able to drive, park, or purchase gas on alternating days.

Dr. Hatcher as a child studying and writing in notebook“I thought it was crazy,” she said. “I wondered why somebody couldn’t just come up with a different source of fuel to use.”

Determined to solve the problem herself, Hatcher skipped recess, recruited her best friend, and began browsing encyclopedias in her elementary school teacher’s classroom. This was her first real research project.

Today, Hatcher is an associate professor of physiology at PCOM, conducting cardiovascular research, teaching, and giving back to the community.

“I never thought I would do some of the things I’m doing now,” she shared. “As a child, I wanted to become a nurse or a physician, but I figured out quickly that this wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Hatcher did believe there was something in the field of science that was meant for her. The lightbulb went off when she took her first genetics class during her junior year of college.

“I like challenges and feeling like I’ve accomplished something difficult, so that’s what appealed to me about science,” she said.

“In class, it was so interesting to see how certain genes can be inherited and passed on. Now, I’m looking at different molecular and cellular mechanisms that contribute to heart development and how some of those go awry and lead to alterations in heart structure and the inability to function properly.”

Thinking back on her education, Hatcher remembers her graduate program and the friendships she made fondly.

“There were only three African-American females in the entire graduate program, and we all happened to be in the same department,” she shared. “We just formed a bond.

Dr. Hatcher posing on stairway surrounded by studentsWe studied together and even spent time together outside of school because we knew we had to be each other’s support system. We didn’t experience any difficulties because of race, but we knew we needed to give each other extra encouragement to stay focused and motivated.”

Hatcher tries to provide the same support to students every day as a faculty co-advisor  for PCOM’s chapter of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), in the classroom, in her research lab, and wherever else she can make a difference in the lives of PCOM students.

During Black History Month, she reflects on how that type of support might mean something different to students who have never had a professor who looks like them.

“I don’t see myself that way when I come into work every day. I just see myself helping students to the best of my ability, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or culture,” she said.

“I never had any Black or African-American professors during college or grad school. For many students, seeing someone of color who looks like them gives them the tangible idea that it’s possible to achieve anything in life. It’s nice to think that maybe I am a representation of something that a lot of students may not see.”

From February 1 to February 29, PCOM joins others around the country in observing Black History Month. This important celebration honors the histories, cultures and contributions of those who identify as Black or African American. At PCOM, we recognize our faculty, students and staff who identify as such and will highlight their stories throughout the month.

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