Meet Maria T. Ochoa, MD, associate professor of clinical dermatology, Department of Dermatology, Keck School of Medicine of USC, and director, Hansen’s Disease Clinic at LAC+USC Medical Center.
Dr. Ochoa has a special research interest in the immunologic mechanism of the host response in infectious diseases of the skin. Here’s what you won’t find on her resume.
Her mother is her role model.
“My mother, who is a physician, is 87 years old, in great health and lives in Colombia. She was one of the first women in Colombia to be trained in psychiatry in the U.S. She is an inspiration. My brother is also a physician, and my sister is a dentist. My other sister is a journalist — I guess one of us needed to be different!”
She calls dermatology a “window to your health.”
“I think dermatology is fascinating, and at USC you can see the entire spectrum of skin diseases and find great expertise. Skin diseases are often thought as a small problem compared to diseases with significant mortality. However, skin problems can cause disability, disfigurement and social stigmatization. Although they do not kill large numbers of people, they can cause an enormous economic burden.”
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She treats a disease that has been around since medieval times.
“Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy, is one of the oldest infectious diseases with lots of stigma. That stigma is still very alive and creates so much fear. Antibiotics will treat the disease so it won’t progress, but once damage is done (for example, numbness caused by damage to peripheral nerves) then it is done. The disabilities are permanent.”
She recently switched her colors from true blue and gold.
“I practiced at UCLA’s division of dermatology for many years. When Dr. Tom Rea stepped down as director of the Hansen’s Disease Clinic at LAC+USC, it was an amazing opportunity for me, and an important decision. USC is growing, and it’s exciting to be a part of that growth. I prefer being at a university, rather than private practice. I like research and teaching, and the university allows you to keep doing both.”
She knows a lot about armadillos.
“The bacteria that causes Hansen’s disease thrives in armadillos, and is transmitted from the armadillo to the person. The armadillo is being researched to better understand the disease and to advance treatments. We are still unsure how people get the disease, so a vaccine would prevent the disease.”
She has something in common with 1950s actress Brigitte Bardot.
“I have always wanted to be a doctor. I never thought about something different. But I love animals and I suppose if I wasn’t a physician, I would probably work with animals. I would be an animal rights activist, just like Brigitte Bardot!”
Dr. Maria Ochoa provides dermatology services for the diagnosis and treatment of a broad range of general skin diseases such as acne, eczema, skin cancer and psoriasis, among others, at Keck Medicine of USC in Los Angeles. Learn more about USC Dermatology.