Creating Your Legacy: Dr. Carol Nadelson, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry Commencement

  • Carol Nadelson


This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Dr. Carol Nadelson, who delivered her speech titled “Creating Your Legacy†at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry 2017 commencement.


In 1985, Dr. Nadelson became the first female president of the American Psychiatric Association. She was also the first female editor-in-chief of the APA Press, and the first director of Partners Office for Women's Careers at Brigham and Women's Hospital, where she continues as the director today. As a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist and Brigham and Women's Hospital expert on promoting academic medical careers for women, she has had a major influence on the lives of women in medicine by advocating for mental health resources and by leading the office for the professional development, career planning, and mentoring of female hospital staff.

Dr. Nadelson was elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society at the University of Rochester Medical School in 1961. From 1979 to 1993, she served as vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the New England Medical Center in Boston. She became a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in 1995. In 1985, Dr. Nadelson received the Elizabeth Blackwell Award for "contributions to the cause of women in the field of medicine" and in 2002, she was honored with the Alexandra Symonds Award for sustained high-level contributions to the field of psychiatry and leadership in advancing women's health. She currently serves as president and CEO of the American Psychiatric Association Press, president of the Association for Academic Psychiatry, and president of the Group for Advancement of Psychiatry.


The road to practicing medicine is arduous, and few will deny this fact.  For Dr. Carol Nadelson—a female in the 1950’s—the dream of a career in medicine seemed unachievable.  Giving up on this dream, however, was not an option for Dr. Nadelson.


“Most people, including my parents, thought that there were other, more reasonable careers for women. But I was determined……What did I learn from it? To accept challenges, find role models and support, and persist in pursuing my dream. While the threat of imminent failure was always on my mind, I had to learn to believe in myself. “


Throughout medical school we are required to memorize an infinite amount of information. We are exposed to brilliant professors who are capable of helping us with this task, and simultaneously inspiring us. For Dr. Nadelson, however, the most informative and inspiring teachers were her patients.


“Most important was what I learned from my patients. They taught me to listen and to care for them. It wasn’t only a physical exam, a procedure or a new medication; they needed me to understand them, be honest with them, and help them come to terms with their pain, loneliness and fear. They needed to trust that I would commit myself to helping them; they needed caring and hope. Their needs could not be met in short, hurried and impersonal exchanges, nor if I were absorbed with filling out forms, more recently looking away from them to a computer screen.“


Dr. Nadelson closes with a reminder that we are entering the most noble of careers, a career without bounds, and with unlimited opportunities to apply the skills and knowledge base we have developed.


“As I welcome you into this compassionate and honorable profession, always remember that it is a privilege to be accepted into the lives of your patients and to serve them. At every age in our history, being a physician has been demanding, but at this time you face unique obstacles and challenges. You have the opportunity, indeed the mandate, to create a legacy that builds from the past and leads to a better future for medicine, for yourselves and for your patients. Congratulations! “