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Dr. Iris F. Litt

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1940

Medical School

State University of New York, Downstate Medical Center


New York

Career Path

Pediatric medicine: Adolescent
Education: Teaching
Dr. Iris F. Litt


My father was an old-fashioned general practitioner who took me on house calls from the time I was very young. He inspired me to love and help people. It was natural that I would want to emulate him (although my experience as a physician bears little relationship to his.)


Through her work on young women's health issues, Dr. Iris Litt has helped to revolutionize the care of women in prisons and juvenile detention centers. For the past twenty-five years her research has focused on health problems of adolescents, including substance abuse, prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and the long-term consequences of eating disorders in adolescent women.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1940, Iris Litt graduated with a B.A. from Cornell University in 1961, and graduated summa cum laude from the State University of New York, Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, New York, in 1965. She took her internship and residency in pediatrics at the New York Hospital, and is board certified in pediatrics, with a subspecialty in adolescent medicine.

Dr. Litt was a teaching fellow at Cornell Medical College from 1967 to 1968, then taught pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx from 1968 to 1970. She was director of the Juvenile Center Service of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Montefiore Hospital from 1968 to 1973, and became medical director for adolescents at Rikers Island Prison Health Services from 1974 to 1976.

Since 1976 Dr. Litt has been director of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Stanford University's Department of Pediatrics, where she is also currently professor of pediatrics and director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender. She feels her work has been enriched by the opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaborations at Stanford.

Dr. Litt has commented that her early interest in adolescent health led her to help improve health care delivery in prisons and juvenile detention facilities. With her mentor, Dr. Michael I. Cohen, she wrote an article in the American Journal of Public Health in 1974 advocating for the right to quality medical care for adolescents in prison. She continues to promote this issue and to study the physician's role in treating adolescents and has written several articles on this topic over the years.

Over the next five years, Dr. Litt plans to concentrate on two major research areas: exploration of gender differences in substance abuse by adolescents and, building on her earlier work, the medical consequences of anorexia nervosa in early adolescence.

Among many honors accorded her, Dr. Litt was elected to the Institute of Medicine in 1995, received the annual Outstanding Achievement Award in Adolescent Medicine from the Society for Adolescent Medicine in 1992, and in 1996 was listed in Best Doctors in America. As editor-in-chief of the Journal of Adolescent Health, Litt is also a frequent contributor; in a 2002 editorial, she addressed the issue of bioterrorism and adolescents.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

I have met with no real obstacle, only "speed bumps." Having my children while in residency made life a bit more difficult (and clearly more rewarding).

How do I make a difference?

In retrospect, I have been fortunate enough to make a difference by being involved in the development of the field of adolescent medicine, improvement in health care delivery in prisons and juvenile detention facilities, and in women's health.

Who was my mentor?

My mentor was Michael I. Cohen, M.D.

How has my career evolved over time?

My career evolved by having a medical degree, which opens many doors and hearts. For me, the most significant departure from traditional medical academia was my seven-year stint (half-time while continuing my medical school activities) as director of Stanford's Institute for Research on Women and Gender (a truly multidisciplinary "think tank").