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Women’s History Month: Spotlighting the Women Leaders of APA

  • March 08, 2022
  • What APA is Doing For You, Women

March is Women’s History Month and we’re highlighting several women currently leading the organization: APA President Vivian Pender, M.D., President-Elect Rebecca W. Brendel, M.D., J.D., and Assembly Speaker Mary Jo Fitz-Gerald, M.D., M.B.A. These leaders follow a distinguished line of women leaders at APA: Since 1985 there have been a total of 13 women presidents of the APA, including six of the last twelve presidents since 2010. (See below.)

Vivian Pender headshot

Vivian B. Pender, M.D., is the current president of APA, and is using her term to explore the social determinants of mental health. She is clinical professor of psychiatry at the Weill Cornell Medical College and a training and supervising psychoanalyst at Columbia University. Dr. Pender has mentored and taught medical students, graduate students, residents, fellows and post-graduates for 35 years.

She has served numerous leadership roles in the APA including the Finance and Budget Committee, the APA Political Action Committee, the Committee on Women, and as a member of the APA Assembly.

Dr. Pender represents the APA and the International Psychoanalytical Association at the United Nations. From 2007-2011 Dr. Pender was Chair of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, a coalition of 100 non-governmental organizations affiliated with the UN. From 2015-2019 she was chair of the NGO Committee on Mental Health, also a coalition of NGOs with the UN.

In 2015, Dr. Pender founded Healthcare Against Trafficking, Inc. a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting education and advocacy in the healthcare sector.

Rebecca Brendel headshot

Rebecca W. Brendel, M.D., J.D., was elected president-elect of the APA in January 2022. She is director of the Master of Bioethics Program, associate director of the Center for Bioethics, and assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. She is also director of law and ethics at the Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she bases her clinical and forensic psychiatry practice.

She has served numerous other leadership positions within APA and with other national organizations, including chair of the APA Ad Hoc Workgroup on Ethics (2014-2015), chair of the APA Bylaws Committee, president of the Academy of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry (2018-2019), and an appointed member of the American Medical Association Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs.

assumed the role of Speaker of the APA Assembly of District Branches in May 2021. The APA Assembly is a deliberative, advisory body to the APA Board of Trustees and represents and serves the needs of the district branches and state associations.

Fitz-Gerald is professor of clinical psychiatry at Louisiana State University Health Shreveport in Shreveport, Louisiana, and director of the Psychiatry Emergency and Consult Services at Ochsner LSU Health Monroe. Previous roles include vice-chair for Psychiatry Education, director of the Psychiatry Inpatient Service, and other roles at Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport.


Looking Back on APA Women Leaders

In 1985 Carol C. Nadelson, M.D., became the first female president of the APA. She was also the first woman editor-in-chief of the APA Press (now APA Publishing). Her long career in psychiatry spanned many positions and leadership roles, including associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, professor and vice chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine, a consultant to the Psychiatric Education Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health, and president of the Association for Academic Psychiatry. She has been a consistently strong advocate for advancing the careers of women in medicine.

Since her presidency, others have followed. View past female presidents of the APA and other early female psychiatrists here.

APA is grateful for all its women leaders and mentors at all levels of the organization and continues to work on gender equity throughout the field.

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