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Innovation and Compassion Are Hallmarks of a Career Founded on Ideals

May 19, 2017 Print

Since her time as a medical student, Shelly F. Greenfield, MD, MPH, has understood that the integration of clinical care, research, and training was integral to delivering and improving patient care. This commitment has informed her work since then.

“When I went into medicine, I believed strongly in the ideals of the profession—respect, dignity, and the importance of the patient-physician relationship in clinical care,” explained Greenfield, chief of the Division of Women’s Mental Health (DWMH) at McLean and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “My experiences as a medical student and an adult psychiatry resident at McLean taught me the critical need to blend empathy and excellence in patient care with an investigator’s desire to ask questions in an effort to continuously seek out ways to improve care.”

Dr. Shelly Greenfield in a gallery of McLean women leaders
Greenfield stands among a portrait gallery of women who positively influenced McLean and advanced its mission

With a specialty in addiction psychiatry, Greenfield asked challenging questions that were the foundation of her research. She was among the first to ask whether women are affected differently than men by substance use and other psychiatric disorders, and to ask whether gender could play a role in the effectiveness of treatment. Her research findings showed that not only are there differences for women in some of the risk factors for addiction, but gender-specific treatment can also enhance treatment outcomes for women with substance use disorders. This work is now leading to innovations in how women with addictive disorders receive care.

“I’ve always been inspired not only to care for patients, but to conduct the research that would better inform the treatment,” said Greenfield. “From there, it was a natural progression to mentor and train students, residents, and junior faculty, which is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my work.”

While maintaining a clinical and research role, Greenfield was appointed to leadership and training roles in McLean’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Program and later was named McLean’s chief academic officer. These roles, combined with leadership positions within national organizations such as the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry and the American Psychiatric Association, have allowed Greenfield to integrate critical elements of psychiatry to advance the care of patients nationwide. “The respect and thoughtfulness that Shelly uses as she approaches each situation has earned her the utmost respect among her colleagues and gives her a unique ability to transform and innovate programs throughout our hospital and in the field of psychiatry,” said Scott L. Rauch, MD, president and psychiatrist in chief of McLean. “Shelly’s drive for true integration of clinical care, research, and training, along with her commitment to diversity and inclusion in psychiatry, is shaping the vision for the future of McLean and our field.”

Leveraging Greenfield’s expertise and drive to develop an integrated and comprehensive approach to mental health and her research focus on women and addiction, in 2013, Rauch tapped her to lead McLean’s new DWMH—uniting McLean’s many programs that are dedicated to the well-being of girls and women throughout the life span. Three years later, she was named the Kristine M. Trustey Endowed Chair in Psychiatry in recognition of her leadership of the division and her impact at McLean.

As she reflected on her own career path, Greenfield noted that while her incoming 1982 medical school class at Harvard Medical School was the first in the school’s history to welcome an equal number of women and men, the path to success in academic medicine was not clear-cut.

“There were women at McLean before me who forged through uncharted territory to achieve success in academic medicine, and I am grateful to them and to my own outstanding mentors,” said Greenfield. “I am building upon their foundation, and as I move forward in my career, I hope to set an example and lay a path for other women at McLean to reach their aspirations.”