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Dr. Carol Cooperman Nadelson

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1936

Medical School

University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry



Career Path

Dr. Carol Cooperman Nadelson


Dr. Carol Nadelson was the first woman president of the American Psychiatric Association.
Dr. Carol Nadelson was the first woman editor-in-chief of the American Psychiatric Association Press.
Dr. Carol Nadelson was the first director of Partners Office for Women's Careers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.


As a young child, I learned from women role models that women could assume many roles in life. My role models were my teachers, my lawyer aunt and Marie Curie, whose biography I read and re-read. They helped me dream. When I was twelve my grandfather, who I adored, developed lung cancer and died. I had spent many months with him, talking and reading, before his death. That experience inspired me to choose medicine as a future career. I wanted to help others, in a way that I had wanted to help him. I wanted to cure cancer.


Dr. Carol Nadelson was first woman president of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), first woman editor-in-chief of the APA Press, and first director of Partners Office for Women's Careers at Brigham and Women's Hospital. As a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist and Brigham and Women's Hospital's expert on promoting academic medical careers for women, she has had a major influence on the lives of women in medicine—by advancing the cause of women's mental health and by leading the office for the professional development, career planning, and mentoring of women on the hospital staff.

Carol Cooperman was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1936. She graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Brooklyn College in 1957 and was elected to Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society at University of Rochester Medical School in 1961. From 1979 to 1993, she was vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry at New England Medical Center, Boston. She has been clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School since 1995.

In the early 1960s, when Dr. Nadelson began practicing psychiatry, the second wave of feminism was bringing new perspectives to issues of women's health. Her early involvement in the women's movement helped fuel her drive to change the approach to women's mental health. At the time, sexist attitudes toward women—as patients and as physicians—was all too common, and women physicians were still relatively rare. Furthermore, too much of the treatment for mental disorders had been based on studies of white males. Today, it is mandatory in the United States when seeking medical research grants to use both female and male subjects or to specify why a study does not.

As director of the Partner's Office for Women's Careers at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Dr. Nadelson has developed strategies to help women physicians build successful careers and advance professionally. Overcoming the hurdles she encountered early in her own career "helped her to learn to take risks, to weather disappointments, and to rejoice in successes." She also believes in problem solving through consensus building. She argues that gender bias is ingrained in "unconscious resistance on both sides." Male chiefs of departments don't pick women for major positions because "they don't think of it," and women, in turn, "don't think to promote themselves, or they don't know how to."

Her efforts to bridge the gap include promoting qualified women as candidates for job openings, placing women in leadership positions on search committees recruiting for employees, celebrating women's achievements, and championing issues that help level the playing field for men and women, by accommodating the needs of women with children, for example. She meets regularly with division chiefs, chairs, and search committees to identify women with the greatest potential for leadership positions. In 1985 Dr. Nadelson became the first woman elected president of the American Psychiatric Association. That same year, she received the Elizabeth Blackwell Award for "contributions to the cause of women in the field of medicine." In 2002, she was honored with the Alexandra Symonds Award for sustained, high-level contributions to the field of psychiatry and significant leadership in advancing women's health. She has served as president and CEO of the American Psychiatric Association Press, president of the Association for Academic Psychiatry, and of the Group for Advancement of Psychiatry.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

At the time I was considering medical school, women physicians were very rare. It was considered a long shot for me to aspire to a career in medicine since I had no money and would be attending a New York City college. The acceptance rate to medical school from Brooklyn College was low, even lower for women. Overcoming that hurdle meant incredibly hard work and many applications and rejections. It was the first of many hurdles. It helped me learn to take risks, to weather disappointments, and to rejoice in successes. As I advanced in my career it continued to be clear that women were not breaking through the "glass ceiling." This fueled my desire to help future generations overcome the barriers that still existed.

How do I make a difference?

At each stage of my career my contributions have been different. Earlier, as a leader in psychiatry it was exciting to bring women's mental health to the forefront of the field and to publish work in this area. My early involvement in the women's movement and in psychiatry propelled me to work hard for women's reproductive rights, childcare, and equality on many fronts. Currently, I am committed to facilitating the career advancement of women. I have always been an advisor, supporter, coach and mentor for women. It is now a more formal role for me. I believe that women must be at the table as leaders and policy makers. It is my goal to help women achieve these ends and their potential, in whatever way they choose.

Who was my mentor?

I've had different mentors at different points in my life. They have been male and female, although mostly male since a career in medicine was by definition in a male dominated environment. When I was a child it was my uncle who most supported my career aspirations. I was mentored by teachers in each educational institution at each step of the way. What was important was the encouragement to keep trying, and to know that someone was there telling me that I could and should do what I dreamed.

How has my career evolved over time?

My career has taken many turns, often totally unpredicted. Early in my career I had no idea about what would come. When I started thinking about medicine, I knew nothing about psychiatry, so it never occurred to me to consider it. But, I loved my rotations as a medical student and I was fascinated by the patients and the field, so I pursued it, despite efforts of family, friends, and faculty to dissuade me. My goal was to become a great clinician. The other roles I have assumed, as a researcher, teachers and administrator where not part of my original plans. I never imagined leading a specialty society as its president, running a publishing company, or that I would be a professor at Harvard Medical School. Even my current position as Director of an Office for Women's Careers was not specifically planned, the opportunity presented itself and I took it. In medicine opportunities are everywhere, there is much to do. Women have to be prepared to meet the challenges that come.