Lisa B. Nachtigall, MD, is the Clinical Co-director of the Neuroendocrine and Pituitary Tumor Clinical Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Nachtigall’s expertise is in pituitary disorders. She recently published papers on the topics of acromegaly and hyperprolactinemia and edited a book on pituitary tumors. Featured as a “Top Doc 2016" in Boston Magazine, Dr. Nachtigall co- directs and sees patients in the Mass General Neuroendocrine and Pituitary Tumor Clinical Center, where she also conducts clinical investigation and teaches endocrine fellows, Mass General residents, Harvard medical students, endocrine colleagues and medical practitioners.
Describe your journey into healthcare. What do you love about science and medicine?
I was essentially born into medicine: my mother is a pioneer in the field of estrogen . She was one of just three women in her medical school class and is now 83 years old, a professor at New York University (NYU) and still runs a full-time practice. My father, an internist, is also a professor of medicine, and my sister is a reproductive endocrinologist at NYU. I always liked the idea of the endocrinology field because, as I tell my patients, when you come to us, if your endocrine tests are normal, that's great news; but if not, that's great news too, because if there's an endocrine problem we can typically make a clear diagnosis and almost always fix it. So people get better, and mysteries are solved.
How long have you worked at Mass General?
I came to Boston in 1993 to train at Mass General as an endocrine fellow. After completing my fellowship at Mass General and Harvard Medical School, I then spent seven years as a junior faculty in academic clinical practice at a small teaching hospital. But I always wanted to return and was delighted to come "home" to Mass General and join the Neuroendocrine Unit Faculty in 2005, where I have worked for the last 12 years.
What is special about Mass General?
There is an intensity to Mass General that I love. The slogan "excellence every day" holds true. The dedication of the doctors, administrators and health care staff striving to do their best is palpable, and yet there's also a loyalty, pride and unity unique for a hospital setting. It’s like being part of a team, but our sport is to promote health and wellness, and no one really sits on the bench. It’s a busy place. At Mass General, there is an office and a specialist for everything you can think of, which creates avenues for hope and opportunity for both patients and staff.
What do you like most about your job?
My favorite thing about my job is the people with whom I work. Our group of 14 pituitary experts includes 11 women physicians. We are fortunate to have such talented clinician-investigators who are passionate about neuroendocrine disease, and who are also caring individuals.
Many of our patients with pituitary tumors come from far away and have seen many doctors, but because of their rare disease, have not been helped. One of the most rewarding aspects of my career is the therapies we can offer such patients by the unique multidisciplinary nature of our center, including a world-renowned pituitary neurosurgeon who can cure many of these patients, and as well as an expert radiation oncology team.
It is particularly gratifying to be a source of comfort and witness the overwhelming relief that patients exhibit when they find that their "rare" pituitary disease is common in our hands and central to our expertise. One young woman with acromegaly who had recently traveled from Mexico for her visit cried tears of joy at our first meeting. She told me I was the first doctor to understand the disease she had lived with for so many years.
Have you encountered any challenges on your journey as a woman, and if so, how did you overcome them?
I did not face the challenges that my mother had, of being the only female physician in the room. I had the benefit of women role models, women colleagues and wonderful women trainees. My biggest challenge as a woman doctor was in the work-parent balancing act. I took the all-day endocrine boards when my first son was only about eight weeks old. It was in the 1990s, before accommodations for nursing mothers. I had to pump in a public bathroom during the few short breaks.
Shortly after the birth of my second child, the hospital that hired me refused a maternity leave and needed me to start right away. So I began full-time practice with an 18-month old-son and a daughter who was only a few weeks old. For years I had to work most weekends, and the toughest part was leaving my toddlers while I admitted patients to the hospital. My husband and kids would come with me and play in the playground until I finished rounds so that I didn't feel I was leaving them.
Today there are more back-up child care options, infrastructure for nursing at work, support for transitioning back after maternity, and Mass General offers many of these programs. Now those two toddlers are in college, and my “baby” is in high school, but still there are challenges and choices that we face in balancing our roles as mothers and as physicians. In April, I will attend the Annual Endocrine Society Meeting in Florida and miss my youngest child’s fifteenth birthday. He hopes to follow his parents and grandparents in a career in science and medicine.