Dr. Jimmie C. Holland's work in psychiatry has been central to the establishment of psycho-oncology as a subspecialty. She conducted some of the first epidemiologic studies of the psychological impact of cancer on individuals and their families and its affect on survival. When she began her work in the 1960s, there was a philosophy that if a patient survived cancer, they should be happy to be alive and simply not worry about it. Thanks to the work of Holland and other proponents of psycho-oncology, cancer diagnosis and therapy are now better understood and more sensitively treated.
Born in Nevada, Texas in 1928, Jimmie Holland earned her M.D. in psychiatry from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, in 1952, and received her board certification in psychiatry in 1966. She taught in the Department of Psychiatry at the State University of New York, Buffalo, from 1956 to 1973, and worked at E. J. Meyer Memorial Hospital from 1958 to 1972, ending as director of the department of psychiatry there in 1972. From 1972 to 1973, she worked in the Soviet Union as a consultant to the Joint Schizophrenia Research Study for the National Institutes of Mental Health and the Psychiatric Research Institute of Moscow.
From 1973 to 1977 she was assistant director of the Psychiatric Consultation Services at Montefiore Hospital of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. Holland founded the American Psychosocial Oncology Society (formerly known as the American Society of Psychosocial and Behavioral Oncology/AIDS) in 1980, and co-founded the International Psycho-Oncology Society (IPOS) in 1984,
Dr. Holland was chief of the Psychiatry Service, which she helped create, for New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center from 1977 to 1996. Working with Dr. Mary Jane Massie at MSK in 1977, Dr. Holland says they realized that even if anxiety or depression was from a "real" (physiological) cause, such as cancer, anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants would work on their brain chemistry, despite the general perception to the contrary. During her years at MSK, Dr. Holland created the nation's largest training and research program in psycho-oncology. In 1984, she produced for Sloan-Kettering the first syllabus on psycho-oncology and, in 1989, was senior editor of the first textbook on the subject.
In 1996, Dr. Holland became chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and vice-chairman of the Cornell Department of Psychiatry, where she had been a professor of psychiatry since 1977. She is also credited with putting psychosocial and behavioral research on the agenda of the American Cancer Society (ACS) in the early 1980s.
The ACS awarded her its Medal of Honor for Clinical Research in 1994. She was elected a Fellow in the Institute of Medicine in 1995, and received the Presidential Commendation from the American Psychiatric Association in 2000, among many other awards.