3 Questions with Dr. Mary Anna Sullivan, LHBS Board Member and Co-Investigator, Lahey Transformative Research Initiative (L-TRI)

Note: Dr. Sullivan also served for 30+ years as a physician with Lahey Health.

1. Mary Anna, was medicine your first career choice and what attracted you to the field?

I really wanted to be an English professor, but in the late 1970’s there were no university jobs. One of my professors thought I would make a good physician, so I flipped that coin and here I am!

Turns out, understanding and dissecting novels is pretty good training for a career as a psychiatrist unraveling and understanding human behavior. And I never tired of hearing my patients’ stories.

2. Name one thing that you wish more people understood about the professional role and the daily work of a physician practicing behavioral medicine?

We are really very like primary care doctors. To make sense of a patient’s distress, we need to understand the whole person. Frequently, that distress is related to overall health status — and vice versa. What are considered “medical” conditions–high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease — are often profoundly affected by how a person is functioning mood-wise. The brain, after all, is part of the body. And medical conditions greatly affect our mental health and well-being.

3. How does your past practice and board certification(s) guide your current work at Lahey Health Behavioral Services?

My medical school and residency training certainly gave me a big boost, but most of my training has been a two-way street and collaborative learning process with my patients and with my colleagues. One of the wonderful things about practicing in the Lahey Health system has been the collegiality and sharing of knowledge across disciplines — social workers, psychologists, community health workers and others — all of whom have helped me learn and grow.