What matters to you.

Alice W. Flaherty

neurologist, Massachusetts General Hospital

Dr. Alice Flaherty is a neurologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital and assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. She completed her AB (summa), MD (magna), internship, residency, and fellowship at Harvard. In an attempt at diversity, she also did a PhD at MIT, one mile away. In the MGH department of neurology, she is the director of the movement disorders fellowship, heads its brain stimulator unit, and has a particular interest in the overlap between mood and movement disorders. Her research focuses on how our brains represent our bodies, a factor that helps drive suffering in depression, movement disorders, and somatoform disorders. In addition to 30 scientific papers and reviews, while still a resident she wrote The Massachusetts General Hospital Handbook of Neurology. It received a national award for its innovative approach. It has had multiple translations, and is the most widely used neurology handbook in the U.S. Her current project, on the neurology of psychosomatic and stoic illness behavior, was awarded a Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study fellowship (the Bunting Prize). The project describes the brain’s role in response to injury. Her work argues that illness behavior is an important skill that is both teachable and biologically based. Advances in neuroscience are making it possible to treat psychosomatic symptoms medically. She also has an independent career as an author for general audiences. Her general writing has crossed a number of genre boundaries, from popular neuroscience to discussions of literature, a children’s book, humorous essays, and a libretto for Jacob vs. Angel—an organ work by Graham Gordon Ramsay that toured in six European cities this summer. Her award-winning book on the neural basis of creativity, The Midnight Disease, was reviewed in over fifty periodicals, ranging from The New Yorker to Brazilian business magazines to a photo-essay in National Geographic. It was also featured in many radio and television interviews. The Washington Post and The San Francisco Chronicle named it one of the best books of 2004. She published a children’s picture book The Luck of the Loch Ness Monster, that touches on the genetic origin of picky eating. As a clinician, Dr. Flaherty has been honored by the Schwartz Center’s statewide Compassionate Caregiver program. In her teaching role at Harvard Medical School and Harvard College, and as a consulting neurologist at McLean Hospital, Dr. Flaherty helps Harvard students to understand brain disorders, including their own mental health problems. She has appeared as an expert on documentaries and news stories for ABC, BBC, CBC, NBC, PBS, and in Japan, Germany, Australia, and the Middle East. Dr. Flaherty lives with her husband, a book editor, in Cambridge. They describe the benefits of author-editor marriages as “complicated.” They have twin girls, whom she sometimes takes on weekend ward rounds. One of her daughters, who was herself an MGH inpatient during a bout of meningitis, recently said on rounds with her eyes glittering, “I love the hospital… I love all the sick people.”