Seeking Out Great Mentors Contributes to Success


‘I try to work with women to get them to feel that they can’

Carol Cooperman Nadelson, M.D., was working in Boston when Leon Eisenberg, renowned child psychiatrist, social psychiatrist and medical educator, moved to town in 1967.

She admired his work and thought she could learn from him. So she immediately reached out to make a connection.

“He became the chair first at Children’s, then at Mass General, and I was in awe of him,” she recalls. “I’d read his work, and I sent him a note welcoming him, and I wanted to meet him. So I did, and we became really good friends, and he was absolutely incredibly supportive and a major mentor all my life.”

Mentors—most of them men—were vital in her career as a psychiatrist and academic. In those days, medicine was still dominated by men. “There were very few women,” she says.

Jack Ewalt, former chair from Mass Mental Health Center, contacted her to apply for a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) grant and develop a human sexuality course for Harvard. This resulted in her designation as a Career Teacher, a group that eventually became the Association for Academic Psychiatry.

“He was a tough guy, he was a Texan, and he was someone who wasn’t quite in the New England mold, but he was a major league leader in psychiatry,” she recalls. “And he really singled me out and helped me a lot. He thought I was good. He thought I had something to offer. He knew I was interested in education, medical education, and he saw it as an opportunity.”

At Harvard Medical School, Dr. Nadelson played it forward.

“I worked the Dean’s Office and some of the sub-deans and the Dean of Faculty Affairs, and we not only collected data, but I tried to build programs to help, you know, seminars on how to get promoted, seminars in writing, getting lecturers who would be role models and people who could be mentors, and stirring up mentorship,” she says.

Soon, she became a trusted resource for students and colleagues. “I became sort of the mentor-in-chief,” she says.

An important part of that role was encouraging women to be pro-active in getting ahead.

“I met with everybody, with the person who comes in, (and says) ‘I didn’t get promoted,’” she recalls. “And my first question would be, ‘Did you ask?’ Because most of the women didn’t.”

As a mentor, she was committed to inspiring and advocating for women. In 1998, she became director of the Partners Office for Women’s Careers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, helping women physicians build careers and advance professionally. In 2009, she was the recipient of the Alma Dea Morani Renaissance Award from the Foundation for the History of Women in Medicine.

“What I do in my mentoring now, and have always done, is I try to work with women to get them to feel that they can,” she says.

This story is taken from the oral history of Carol Nadelson, MD. The full oral history is available here as part of the Foundation’s exhibit at the The Countway Library of Medicine, through our partnership with the The Archives for Women in Medicine.

Alicia Lazzaro