Once, when Cambridge, Massachusetts pediatrician Maureen Lynch was on rounds in medical school, her group came upon a patient who had been admitted because she fainted every time she went to the hairdresser. The rather overbearing instructor asked each person in the group, “What is it?” She returned at the end to Lynch, who had diagnosed a colloid cyst of the third ventricle. “How did you know that?” asked the instructor, to which Lynch replied, “I saw it on ‘Marcus Welby.’”
Lynch’s mantra: “It doesn’t matter where you learn something as long as you remember it.” This says a great deal about Lynch: her insatiable interest in diagnosis and absolute disregard of status and image.
When Lynch was 10 years old, her mother contracted Eastern equine encephalitis and lapsed into a coma. Because she and her sister took alternate weeks off from school to care for their mother, Lynch had a great deal of contact with physicians. During that time her self-described “feeling of helplessness” became a desire to practice medicine.
At Caldwell, she was a leading biology student. Her fierce determination, coupled with her intelligence and drive, earned Lynch the distinction of class valedictorian.
The week before her sister’s wedding, just as Lynch was about to enter medical school, her father died of a heart attack, leaving her with the sole responsibility of caring for her invalid mother. Lynch worked as a pharmacological researcher for four years and earned a master’s degree at New York University. She then entered the Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, receiving her delayed M.D. in 1975, and completed her internship and residency at Boston Children’s Hospital, earning a fellowship in adolescent medicine. Lynch then joined the Harvard University Group Health Plan, caring for children and serving as the pediatric department’s head for more than 33 years.
Earlier this year, when the plan outsourced pediatrics, Lynch continued as its medical director, and she still works at Children’s Hospital, serving as assistant in gynecology and assistant clinical professor since 1979. In this role she provides clinical care to infant and adolescent girls made vulnerable by developmental and/or physical disabilities.
Asked what has changed the most in her years of pediatric practice, Lynch replies, “The kids are the same; kids are great!” One of the challenges, she says, has been the impact of the internet and parents’ access to a surfeit of information. Many who research online sources think they have diagnosed their child’s problem and/or discovered a solution. Lynch asks them to describe their worst fear and then dispels it with dispatch. She says she views her job as ruling out potential problems so parents can sleep. “Let me worry until it’s time to worry,” is her regular, gently spoken admonition to parents.
Lynch says she has been “blessed with a good education and a wonderful profession.” In her desire to give back, for 14 consecutive years she has traveled to Haiti with a team of doctors working under the umbrella of the Haiti Mission of the United Methodist Church.
In her scarce leisure time she is a “sucker for rom-coms, particularly those from Nora Ephron,” and enjoys spending time in London and on Cape Cod with her husband, Roger Stacey.
“Maureen has a reputation for being quite outspoken, especially about things she really cares about,” he says. “The maddening thing is that she is almost always right.” Her sage advice for Caldwell students: “Try to do the right things and fight for what you believe in.” And in terms of choosing a career: “Know your passion and follow your heart.”
“I know I make a difference,” she says, adding, “As I come to the end of a successful career, I am now in a position to motivate young people. I couldn’t have asked for a better ride in this life.”
with thanks to Roger Stacey