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Leffert is new chair of anesthesiology

Medicine@Yale, 2022 - May June
by Isabella Backman

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After a career in Boston, says Yale feels like home

Yale School of Medicine has welcomed Lisa Leffert, MD, former associate professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School and chief of the division of obstetric anesthesia at Massachusetts General Hospital, as the new Nicholas M. Green Professor and chair of the Department of Anesthesiology. She has also been appointed chief of anesthesiology at Yale New Haven Hospital and Bridgeport Hospital.

Born into a family of physicians, when it came time to apply to medical school, Leffert wondered if her interest in pursuing medicine stemmed from the right reasons. Was this truly her passion, she wondered, or was it just because of how she was raised? So she did something unusual at the time—she decided to work on the business side of health care. She enjoyed that work, and it also helped her realize her true calling. “So I went into medicine and started what’s been a 25+ year career having the best of everything—actively caring for patients, building systems, mentoring, and doing research,” she says.

It didn’t all come together instantly. As she went through her rotations at Harvard Medical School, at first she struggled to pick a specialty. While she enjoyed them all, there weren’t any that she could imagine herself doing long-term. Finally, her father, who was a surgeon, suggested she try anesthesiology.

Leffert met Phillipa Hore, MBBS, who was a visiting junior anesthesiologist from Australia—the woman who would become her role model. “She was the first person I met whom I pointed to and said, ‘I want to be her,’ ” she reflects. “In some ways, it felt like she was the most important person in the room. It really appeal- ed to me as a young woman, particularly back then, embarking on this medical career.”

Leffert was also attracted to the anesthesiology community. Anesthesiology, she says, draws people from a wide variety of career backgrounds—often individuals from other areas of medicine who were looking for something more fulfilling. “It felt like a community I could relate to and feel a part of,” she says.

Leffert has spent most of her career at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, where she was brought on as faculty in 1996. She had been interested in looking for the next step in her career, but expected to do it in Boston. However, when she was approached by Yale, she realized that “something was happening here.”

“The people at Yale are really energized to go to the next point in Yale’s evolution, whether it be at the medical school, the health system, or the individual health care sites,” she says. “It feels like a really exciting time to be here, and I wanted to be a part of this.”

Leffert is especially looking forward to opportunities to build collaborative relationships and to offer sponsorship and faculty development—which have been passions of hers since the beginning of her career. Her decision to join Yale, she says, was solidified after she visited the campus for the first time. While Leffert has traveled all over the country, Yale seemed special to her. “It just felt right,” she says. “I can’t remember another time when I went somewhere and felt ‘this feels like home.’” To have the juxtaposition of being at an institution with such a rich history, but one that can, and wants to, move forward is very special, she says.

In her new roles, Leffert hopes to be able to support the faculty both as a whole and in terms of individual career aspirations. She hopes to take care of members of the Yale community who may be experiencing burnout related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Anesthesia as a field is a lot more than taking care of people within the operating room,” she says. “We spend almost as much time taking care of people outside the operating room—as perioperative physicians, intensivists, diagnosticians, obstetric anesthesiologists, and pain management specialists.”

Leffert joined Yale on August 16, 2021, and every day since, she says, has been like “eating tapas in a great restaurant."

“I wake up in the morning and I don’t know what the day is going to bring,” she explains. “I could be focusing on operations, development, or finance. It could be anything.”

One of her favorite parts of Yale, she says, is how it doesn’t feel stuck in the past. Throughout her career, she has had many experiences in senior leadership where she was the only woman in the room, or there was very little racial diversity. However, at Yale, she says, there is a drive to be more diverse and inclusive, and being surrounded by a variety of voices has been heartening for her. “People here are extraordinarily engaged and interested in making change.”

Her research has focused on managing obstetric patients with neurologic comorbidities or complications, including research on pregnancy and stroke.