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Dr. Raquel Eidelnan Cohen

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1922

Medical School

Harvard Medical School



Career Path

Dr. Raquel Eidelnan Cohen


Dr. Cohen was one of twelve women in Harvard Medical School's first coeducational graduating class.


As a child in Lima, Peru, I was struck by the poverty and lack of medical facilities for children so I began to dream of becoming a doctor as a way to help this population.


Raquel E. Cohen was a student in the first class including women to graduate from Harvard Medical School, in 1949. She went on to become an international authority on psychological and social consequences of disasters such as Hurricane Mitch in Central America, October 1998 and intervention methods for humanitarian workers, used in assisting survivors of the Mariel Boatlift of 1980 and victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Her expertise in disaster management has been sought by both public and private relief organizations.

Raquel Eidelnan Cohen, a native of Lima Peru, graduated from San Marcos University in 1942. After earning her master of public health degree at Harvard School of Public Health in 1945, she pursued an M.D. from Harvard Medical School.

As a noted child psychiatrist, she was associate director of the Laboratory of Community Psychiatry for Harvard's Department of Psychiatry, and psychiatric director at the North Suffolk Mental Health Center in Boston, Massachusetts from 1963 to 1967. She was also superintendent of the Erich Lindemann Mental Health Center in Boston from 1977 to 1980. In 1976, she was given the American Psychiatric Association's Seymour D. Vestermark Award for excellence in teaching and in 1979 she earned the Massachusetts Public Health Association's Paul Revere Award. In 1992 she won the American Psychiatric Association's Simon Bolivar Award, in recognition of her dedicated efforts on behalf of Hispanic professionals.

From 1979 to 1982 she was a member of the National Advisory Council of the National Institutes of Mental Health, and in 1980 she was senior consultant for the Office of Refugee Resettlement of the Cuban Youth Camp Program during the Mariel Boatlift, where she was responsible for developing programs for unaccompanied minors who traveled from Cuba to the United States.

From 1981 to 1987 she was associate director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Miami (Florida) Medical School. She was also director of education and training for the Miami World Health Organization collaborating Center for Mental Health, Alcohol, and Drug Dependence at the University of Miami's Spanish Family Guidance Center. From 1990 to 2000 she served as director of the Children's Center at the Florida State Attorney General's office, where she was responsible for assessing and managing cases of child sexual abuse.

Her work as an authority in psychological and social consequences of disasters and intervention methods has been published in both English and Spanish editions of Mental Health Services in Disasters: A Manual for Humanitarian Workers, which has been used to train disaster workers throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

She has also been consultant to the Pan American Health Organization, the Boston Public Schools, and is a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

Following three decades of work in child psychiatry and child abuse cases, and training disaster relief workers, she is now consulting on the management of the mental health needs of disaster victims. Her latest projects include developing a distance-learning program for use in training global disaster relief workers via the Internet and working with the Department of Public Health at the University of Miami to develop a curriculum on terrorism for training health care personnel, clergy, and educators throughout the state of Florida.

In addition to her extensive professional activities, she has raised three children with the help of her husband, her "loving, large in-law family," flexible training schedules, and the understanding of her program directors.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

I encountered the same stereotype reactions of male colleagues, supervisors and heads of departments that did not seem to believe in the skills or seriousness in the commitments of women. Once a male physician wondered why I was not at home taking care of my children and rejected my application.

How do I make a difference?

My contribution to the field of psychological assistance to survivors of disasters has been one of my most important professional activities. I began to explore this need in 1970 when there was very little interest or knowledge to civilian catastrophic reactions. I began to participate in these services both in Latin American and the U.S. I trained a large number of government professional to prepare for emergencies, published, researched, and directed responses to these traumatic events. Many of my pioneering lessons have been used to develop guidelines that were used in New York after September 11 [2001] to assist survivors emergency workers, and their families. I am still surprised at how combining medical interest with population-based issues political historical, cultural, can continue to be a source of meaningful life style.

Who was my mentor?

Before I became a doctor I admired women like Dr. Marie Curie and other pioneers in medicine. After receiving my M.D., most of my mentors were men — mostly my teachers at Harvard Medical School.