A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

SINCE YOU ASKED: Gretchen Green


Gretchen E. GreenGretchen E. Green ’96 MMS’98 MD’00
Vice Chair, Board of Directors of the National Women’s History Museum
Greensboro, NC

How did you become interested in the history of medicine and women’s history?

In high school, I wrote a history paper on Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen, the founder of the American Medical Women’s Association. The paper placed second nationally at the National History Day competition, and I was hooked on history. Her life was such an inspiration that it has kept my fascination ever since.

I continued my history research through the Program in Liberal Medical Education, combining the history of the pharmacology of twilight sleep, the obstetrical anesthesia technique developed by Dr. Van Hoosen, with the history of women physicians’ actions during the Progressive Era, culminating in a master’s degree. I am eternally grateful to the PLME and especially Dean Edward Beiser for the support I needed to pursue that study.

There is a great need to educate everyone on the nuances of women’s history, so everyone can benefit from knowing women’s diverse accomplishments. That is what motivated me to join the board of directors of the National Women’s History Museum, where I serve as vice chair.

How does this inform your practice?

My interest influenced my decision to specialize in women’s imaging in radiology, primarily breast, obstetrical, and pelvic imaging. History isn’t just a look back in time, it’s how we look ahead to what we can do better in the future. In the field of childbirth anesthesia, equality in pain relief for women in 1915 became a rallying cry for basic human rights. Women argued that receiving medical care was a key indicator of their social standing, and played an active role as advocates for their own health care decisions. The desire to organize on behalf of medical causes was just as important for women 100 years ago as it is in 2017.

Your clinical expertise is in breast health/mammography, an area that can be very confusing for patients because of the evolving screening recommendations. How do you explain that to your patients?

Knowing the history of medicine has inspired me to pursue the difficult challenges of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, because I see how far we’ve come despite daunting odds.

We continue to face challenges in breast cancer detection and treatment even as technology has progressed, but a culture of continuous improvement helps me create perspective for patients that in a specialty filled with uncertainty and anxiety. We constantly learn how to care for patients better than ever.

Organized medicine plays an important role in screening recommendations, for both physicians and our patients. Speaking with one voice is so important for patient understanding and confidence. The American College of Radiology and Society of Breast Imaging continue to recommend yearly screening mammography beginning at 40 (for average risk patients), to provide the greatest public health benefit.

What’s on your music playlist?

My favorite artist is Peter Gabriel, but my playlists contain everything from Gregorian chant to hip hop. Some songs are great for running, others are more meditative.

How do you manage work/life balance?

Cooking helps me keep things in perspective and to reframe “mistakes.” We spend our professional days as physicians so afraid of doing something wrong. Cooking is much more forgiving, and a way I show love for my family. If I burn something in the kitchen, I call it caramelized. If it’s not very pretty, it’s rustic. I love Julia Child’s quote: “Learn how to cook—try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”

Helping to build the National Women’s History Museum has become a lifeline for me. Our goal is to build the first museum of its kind in any nation’s capital, to serve as a physical manifestation of the idea that women’s history is much more than most of us know, a diverse collection of stories begging to be told.

Who lives at home with you?

I am married to a physician and we have two children, ages 6 and 8. Being a two-MD family definitely has its challenges, and we have taken a creative approach to do enough of all the things we need and want to do. After 10 years as a full-time partner in private practice, I took a sabbatical last fall to carefully consider my next life chapter, and to work on the museum’s next phase of development.


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