Estherann Grace, M.D.

Estherann GraceWhen Estherann Grace, M.D., ’61 talks about the difficulties of “getting through the glass ceiling,” it’s from the perspective of someone who’s been there, done that. In a big way.

Grace, who retired three years ago from a prestigious private practice in reproductive endocrinology, is associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, as well as clinical chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Children’s Hospital Boston.

“Overcoming the prejudice against women in medicine in the late ’60s, ’70s and ’80s was probably the worst [part],” she said, noting that she encountered it not only in male physicians, but sometimes in other women, such as resentment directed at her from nurses or even from the mothers of her adolescent patients, threatened by the relationship their daughters had with her.

It was at Immaculata in the 1960s that Grace first got an inkling that the road she and her cohorts were embarking on might not automatically endear them to the world. “I remember Father Nolan standing in front of our class and saying, ‘Not everyone is going to like you,’ and we were horrified.”

But that initial naiveté didn’t last long, evolving through years of hard work, training and experience into a tough-minded but philosophical stance. As Grace pointed out, when one’s credentials include Harvard—the undisputed mecca for cutting-edge research and delivery of care—“If somebody’s not going to like you, well, they’re going to get over it.”

Though she may not have been entirely aware of the obstacles she would face, Grace did know, from the age of 16, that she was going to be a physician, and she chose Immaculata for its reputation for getting women into medical school. She attended IC on academic scholarship, part of “the generation that began to go to college as an expectation,” as she puts it.

According to Grace, her years at the small women’s school “were very profitable in the sense that the experience gave me lifelong friends and provided me with a philosophy of learning that has stood me in good stead my entire life. It’s a very different world than it was then, but I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for Immaculata.”

After graduating in 1961, Grace was accepted to several schools but chose Woman’s Medical College of Philadelphia and was awarded another academic scholarship. “That school no longer exists, but it, too, served a purpose for women,” said Grace, noting with her trademark cheekiness, “I never would have gotten through anywhere else because I was having such a good time!”

She did her residency in pediatrics at the Hospital of the Woman’s Medical College and St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, then a fellowship in adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital Boston. “I did a rotation as a resident in the adolescent medicine clinic at Woman’s, and I really enjoyed working with that population. That’s when I decided that’s what I would do. Adolescents are great for patients. They’re much easier to deal with for brief periods of time.”

In 1978, Grace entered private practice and, through her work with young women, consequently became the leading expert in the Boston area on eating disorders. She has written and lectured extensively on the topics of anorexia, bulimia and other disordered eating, as well as on the full range of adolescent health, including the issues of “body art” and mother-daughter communication.

Today, Grace devotes her time entirely to adolescent medicine and her teaching responsibilities. She considers the most rewarding part of her work “the satisfaction of educating the next generation of physicians.” As a successful woman at Harvard Medical School, she takes seriously her role as model and mentor to other young women, as well as her dedication to training medical students, residents and fellows.

“The mission of our hospital is teaching, research and service to the patient. Hopefully, each and every one of us embodies that. I always have a resident shadowing me, and I say to the patients, and to the parents, ‘This is the next generation. I won’t live forever.’”

In addition to her duties as professor and clinical chief, Grace sits on the Archives of Women in Medicine at Harvard, and the Time Line Historical Wall Committee at Children’s Hospital Boston. Among her many honors, she has received the Harvard Medical School Medical Students’ Teaching Award and an award from the New England Regional Chapter of the Society of Adolescent Medicine.

Her life outside of the hospital and medical school is also full and active. “I like to travel,” she said, “and there’s my family, two children and two grandchildren. I’m a fairly recent golfer, and the dog I walk every day keeps me in shape. And there’s the symphony and the theater and friends.

“I’m incredibly grateful to IC and the women who taught me,” she added. “There aren’t many women professors at Harvard, and I attribute my success in large part to Immaculata.”

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