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Who's Who: Fernando Holguin, MD, MPH

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Fernando Holguin, MD, MPH

Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics

Division of Pulmonary Sciences and Critical Care

University of Colorado



Three statements about you – two true, one false.  (We tease each new Who’s Who with statements about each featured person – two of which are true, one of which is false, all to be revealed in the last answer.)

  • My first research was epidemiological.
  • I enjoy biking and skiing.
  • My family plans their yearly vacations around hiking trails.


Give us your ‘elevator pitch’ biography.

I was born in Mexico City and moved to the United States in 1992 for a training program at Emory University. After completing my residency in pulmonology and critical care, I went back to Mexico and began doing research focused on air pollution with the National Institute of Public Health.

Asthma is one of the diseases you see prevalently in areas with air pollution, so that started me thinking about asthma and air pollution, which led me back to the U.S. to work at the CDC and to obtain further training in epidemiology. I worked on the CDC’s Healthy Border 2012, studying kids with asthma on both sides of the border and their exposure to traffic, and other air pollution.

While at the CDC, I worked as Emory University faculty and was in charge of a Grady Hospital asthma clinic, and I noticed a lot of body weight issues among the patients with more severe asthma, so started wondering what it is about BMI that impacts the lungs, which has become my central research question over the last 15 years. I moved from epidemiological research to more translational science, as I’ve been trying to understand the biological mechanisms for new treatments specially geared to both BMI and chronic asthma.

Following that, I moved from Atlanta to the University of Pittsburgh, where I worked at the Asthma Institute and learned about asthma clinical trials. For the past four years at the University of Colorado, my research has continued to focus on translational, metabolism and clinical asthma research. I’m passionate about things that are readily transferrable to patient care.

I still run a severe asthma program and work in the ICU. I like treating patients, and I also find that I get a lot of ideas for research questions from patients. Most recently I completed a study involving kids and indoor allergies/indoor pollution in Aurora, so I continue to do a bit of work on environment and asthma.

I’ve been married for 23 years to my wife, Shanta, and we have two children; Diego who is 12, and Mateo, who is 15.



What would you tell yourself as an Early Career Professional?

I would say that it is really important keep true to your goals and objectives and to understand that it’s ok not to get it right all the time.

As you’re moving through your career, you see what you may think are too many wrong turns, too many mistakes, and you start to feel like you failed. Then, as you keep pushing through, you see the failures were opportunities to improve.

It will work out in the end, you will fail many times, but keep moving forward and enjoy the journey; academic life can be hard – papers will be rejected, grants not approved, but it’s all part of the process.  Put it into perspective and learn from your mistakes.

It takes time. This is a career with delayed gratification.



If you weren’t in medicine, and were in a different industry altogether, what would you be?

It’s hard for me to think about doing something else because I see myself as a doctor, but I love art and travel, so in another life I would have taken a career focused on art history, or something related to art and history.



What is your favorite way to spend a day off?

Living in Colorado has been interesting because its a very outdoorsy place, and I wasn’t overly outdoorsy before. I’ve taken up biking, road biking and skiing; but mostly I like reading and hanging out with my family.



What areas of medicine are you most excited to see develop?

I’d like to see two. Precision and personalized medicine are an evolving topic that I’d like to see applied more often. I’d like to see asthma, which is a complex airway disease, treated based on markers that will indicate the best treatments for patients, as we see in oncology.  It would help us give the right drugs to the right patients and avoid giving drugs to patients who won’t respond appropriately.

I’d also like to see a health care system that works for everyone. Right now, we see tremendous health disparities, and a system where some can afford care and not others, so I’d like to see any policies that move access to medicine forward.



What is one advancement in your field you’d like to see in your career?

I would love to see a better understanding as to how metabolism/ metabolic factor impacts lung airways. I’d like to see more understanding of the microbiome, and how the things we eat are impacting what we see as pulmonologists.



Ok. Which statement is TRUE?

I enjoy biking and skiing.