On the Run: Dr. Art Mollen is a busy guy

Walk into any grocery store around this time of year, and chances are pretty good that a Mollen Clinic is nearby. To most Arizonans, the name has become synonymous with the flu shots we get each year, usually in the middle of a shopping trip when it’s convenient and cheap. These clinics have turned the Mollen name into a Kleenex or Coke — a term so well-known it replaces the actual name of the product (i.e. tissues or soda). But there is a man behind that name — one who does the work of three — and he’s quite busy, as a matter of fact. His name is Dr. Art Mollen, and he’s got things to do.

The Doctor/

Although today people know him as Dr. Mollen, that wasn’t always his family’s last name. “My father and his brothers, in the 1940s, they shortened their name,” Mollen explains. “The original family name was Mollenick, and they shortened it to Mollen because of the anti-Semitism that was being propagated during those times.” He was born a few years later, and spent his formative years in the Philadelphia area where he would end up going to school. After college, the military came calling. “I was in the last group of doctors ever to be drafted in this country. It was the tail end of Vietnam.”

Fortunately, Mollen didn’t have to go overseas, and instead he was stationed at Luke Air Force Base. This led to an internship at Phoenix General Hospital (now known as John C. Lincoln), and a love for the Phoenix metro area. “Once I saw that you could exercise every day of your life out here — and in Philadelphia you don’t see the sun that often — I decided that it would be better to be out here,” he jokes.

Before his time in the Air Force was complete, he trained in allergies and immunizations at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. “After the training, I came back to Luke and I was appointed chief of allergies and immunizations.”

But there was this nagging question in the back of his head that kept resonating during his training, and it made him think about the people who were teaching him his craft. “I looked around at the physicians that were treating me and I was thinking, ‘They’re out of shape, they’re not taking care of themselves. Perhaps we ought to talk more about preventative medicine instead of what we need to do to treat this particular disease.’”

Which brings us to Mollen’s ultimate question, one that he’s searched for an answer to throughout his career: Can these diseases be prevented? And that question came from the heart (quite literally). “Having a strong family history of diabetes, I certainly didn’t want to develop diabetes later on myself,” he says. “I think I was 26 or 27 when my father died of cardiovascular disease. I didn’t want to follow in those footsteps.”

Over the course of his career, he’s directed his energy toward finding a solution. One example of that is the now famous Mollen Immunization Clinic that he started with very modest ideas. His concept was to bring flu shots to the people. At the time, this was a revolutionary concept. Prior to this, patients had to make an appointment with their doctor to get immunized, and the hassle alone stopped many from doing so. Instead, he wanted to make it as easy as possible for them to get immunized, by bringing the service to a place that everyone visits on a regular basis: the grocery store.

Early on, Mollen had a big supporter behind him. “The [Maricopa] county health department came to me and asked me if I would help them with a study that they were doing with Medicare to see if flu shots lowered mortality rates among seniors.” Because of his celebrity status — he was already known for his work on the radio, a syndicated newspaper column, multiple books and various television appearances — they figured that his name could help get the word out. That’s when he suggested a grocery store as a location, and it all went from there.

Today, the Mollen Immunization Clinics do flu shots in every Wal-Mart across the United States, and were critical in treating children during the H1N1 epidemic a few years back. “Last year, we did 150,000 programs,” he explains. Although Mollen did sell the company, he’s still the acting medical director for the group.

In his pursuit of preventing diseases, Mollen also established the Mollen Foundation for Childhood Obesity. Its goal is to keep children from putting on extra pounds that could lead to a number of health problems in adulthood. But there’s more to it than just preventing disease. “It’s an emotional and psychological issue as much as it’s a physical issue when we have childhood obesity,” he says. “It’s some of the things that you can’t see that become critically important. The fact that an overweight kid gets bullied at school. An overweight child may not get picked by the teacher to do some special task because they’re overweight.”

Mollen’s foundation does some great work, and he offers advice to parents both young and old. “The main thing that I try to promote is for parents to be exemplary. If you exercise, if you keep yourself in good shape, if you eat the right foods, you’re going to have such a tremendous influence on your child. It may not be perfect, and they may still be a little overweight and may still not eat all of the right things, but you can have a significant impact on their future health.”

Most doctors would be either retired or burned out at his age (which is 67, by the way), but not Mollen. He’s still seeing patients every day, five days a week. “I work because I want to work. Because I love medicine, and at the end of the day, perhaps the most important thing to me is really being a good physician and taking care of my patients. Feeling good about what I did at the end of the day from a patient perspective.”

Of course, he’s known as a doctor by most people, but that’s just one side.

The Athlete

Mollen has always been interested in athletics. As a child he’d play sports — gymnastics, baseball and so on — but his love of running started when he was a senior in medical school. It was his little experiment to see if he could prove that it was possible to prevent disease before it struck, as opposed to just treating it as a doctor. The hobby became a passion, one that would soon become a main focus in his life.

Thirty-seven years ago, Mollen started an event in town that would soon become a staple of the city: the Phoenix 10k, one of the oldest running events in the state that attracts around 10,000 athletes every year. This year should be no different. “For the first time, we’ve added the half marathon to [the event]. So we have a 5k, a 10k and a half marathon. At one time it went on Central Avenue — now it will go on Central Avenue again, and the mayor is stopping the light rail for the race and everything like that. It’s a spectacular event.”

Mollen’s intense work ethic carries over into his training regimen as well. His daily routine would put some 30-year-olds to shame, much less someone who qualifies for AARP membership. Of course, being the competitive guy that he is, he begins explaining his workouts with a disclaimer. “As you get older, you don’t run as quickly. It’s tougher to lift my legs up and things like that,” and then he laughs, because he understands how absurd his next statement may sound to anyone else who’s just a few years shy of being a septuagenarian.

“I mostly bike during the days. I’ll bike every morning at least 12 to 15 miles on a mountain bike. I’ll come back, and usually lift weights for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the day. Then I swim a mile every night. I go to a 25-meter pool and I swim a mile. I’m not a very good swimmer — it takes me about 55 minutes to swim a mile — but I do it every day.”

Now that sounds exhausting.

The Man

Mollen does not regularly attend synagogue, but that doesn’t mean that he is without his faith, and like most things in his life, it’s part of his routine. “I read Hebrew every morning. I don’t necessarily read it for hours or anything like that, but I do spend some time reading Hebrew every morning. I started doing that when my mother passed away in 2001. That’s one way.”

The other way is done while he’s exercising. Whenever he’s working out, his mind often travels to a different place where he can reflect. “Whether I’m running or swimming or biking or whatever, that’s the time that I get more spiritual than religious.” These moments have led him to become quite introspective on his life, and what he does as a man. “You think about who you are, what you are and what kind of impact you can have on the whole universe,” he says.

See, Mollen is a bit of an overachiever (as if that weren’t obvious by this point). Between the various foundations he’s established, the work with the Mollen Clinics and the daily visits with patients, he’s still found time to write books, make regular appearances on the television and radio, plus have a family. He has three children of his own — two daughters and a son — as well as a stepson who is just 11 years old. That in itself is a lot for one man to handle, but they’ve always been on his side and supported him through it all.

How does he manage to pull all this off? Most men would be crippled with the workload that he puts himself under every day, but not him. How does that work? “I always feel like I have a lot of time,” Mollen says, laughing. “I always have something to do, but there’s still time to fit something in.” In the end, Mollen doesn’t have any kind of special super power. For him, it’s just about having the right people to help him out. “I’m probably good at delegating things. I think my expertise is in time management.”

To help him with his practice, he now has two associates on staff. “One is my cousin, Marty Mollen, the other is Dr. Mel Botner. They just recently joined the practice, which is just great from a camaraderie standpoint. Between us, you have about 120 years of experience.”

Interestingly enough, it’s this hectic schedule and intensive demand on his time that keeps him going. “The other things that I’ve done, I think inspire you to keep your interest. If you’re just doing the one thing, it’s easy to get burned out.”

A Man on a Mission

Watching the doctor walk around his office, one gets the impression there’s no other place he’d rather be than there. It’s his base. It’s what he’s good at, and it challenges him all the time. “I continue to learn something every single day. I inevitably see a patient that I will say, ‘OK, I’m going to learn something different.’”

Someday he’ll retire. We picture him sitting in a lounge chair outside by the pool, a cold drink nearby and his family by his side. He’ll close his eyes and picture a future full of no schedules, no patients and no white lab coats. It will be a peaceful moment.

Then he’ll get up, stretch and go for a 10-mile run. For a warm-up.

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