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Hopkinton cardiologists throw their hearts into leadership roles at American College of Cardiology

by | Jun 24, 2024 | Featured, Featured: Features

For the first time in its history, the Massachusetts chapter of the American College of Cardiology will be governed for two consecutive terms by Hopkinton women, showing the increasing role of women in a traditionally male-dominated field.

Dr. Colleen Harrington, a Hopkinton resident since 2017, is the Massachusetts ACC governor/president. She explained that she was preceded by a woman and will be followed by a female colleague from Hopkinton when her term expires in April 2025.

“I thought it was a neat thing because we really haven’t had too many female governors,” she said. “Then to have three consecutive women, and two from the town, is really special.”

The New York native was inspired to pursue a career in medicine by her `mother, a nurse and native of Ireland. She visited her mother in the hospital after school and became fascinated with the methods used to treat patients. As a competitive professional Irish dancer in her youth, Harrington intertwined her love of her heritage with the importance of maintaining a strong body.

Dr. Colleen Harrington

Dr. Colleen Harrington is the governor/president of the Massachusetts chapter of the American College of Cardiology.

“I didn’t do the road that we’re supposed to do right out of college,” she explained. “I had been a physician assistant in cardiac surgery for two years when I thought about getting an advanced degree. Everyone around me said, ‘You should go to medical school.’ ”

She added: “I do believe that experience helped me tremendously in becoming a better doctor.”

Harrington completed her residency and fellowship at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and was asked to be its chief resident. She also served on the school’s faculty for two years before moving to Massachusetts.

Harrington has been a trailblazer in a heavily male-dominated field. Even now, she said, only between 10%-12% of practicing cardiologists are female. She has led the Women’s Heart Health and Cardiology Program at Massachusetts General Hospital for the past two years.

She also has mentored cardiology fellows as the hospital’s associate program director.

“I don’t just mentor women,” she said. “But a lot of women are drawn to me. It sounds really corny, but I find it incredibly rewarding. So many people have helped me along the way. I feel like, if I can do the same, I’m fulfilling that circle.”

As the Massachusetts ACC governor/president, she has made it her personal mission to start community initiatives.

“As a governor, we did a program last year at the Boys & Girls Club in Dorchester where we talked about careers in medicine, not just becoming a doctor,” she said. “That was not happening for years during the pandemic because no one could get together.”

Last year, Harrington led a mentorship program for Hopkinton High School students interested in pursuing medicine. She has two 10-year-old twins in the school system.

“I’ve lived in a lot of places, but this is just a great town to live in, and the schools are fantastic,” she said. “It’s only been seven years, but it seems a lot longer because Hopkinton has so much to offer.”

In her role, Harrington also has become a vocal patient advocate, traveling to Washington, D.C., to meet with legislators. She also created a legislative advocacy committee.

“There’s a side of medicine focused on research and advancement,” she noted. “But there’s another side focused on law and policy. We really need to make sure we have a seat at the table. In the end, it’s very financially driven, and it’s the patient who gets the delay that can alter their prognosis.”

She added that patients should not have to worry about keeping their medical team or if their insurance will cover a procedure.

Harrington’s passion is caring for and educating women about heart disease. She also treats men, but she finds that women tend to seek female specialists. She noted that 50% of women don’t know that heart disease is the leading cause of death.

“We as a society have not really appreciated the two major changes a woman’s body goes through — birth and menopause — and the amount of transition a woman’s body goes through,” she said. “They really don’t get the attention that they should.”

Added Harrington:  “Women’s eyes open when they make the connection and realize this is happening at home here in Hopkinton.”

Part of the problem is that women often are shamed for seeking cardiac care because of their weight. While the rate of women with heart disease is going down, according to Harrington, one reason may be that female concerns are not being reported.

“I have been on the receiving end of not empathetic care,” she said, “and I think it’s really important to tap into that when you’re on the other side of the table.”

Other highlights of her tenure include starting a DEI initiative within the state chapter. She also created the Fellows in Training Council, which is comprised of two representatives from every training program in the state.

Harrington said Dr. Michelle Hadley, the current ACC advocacy chair, will be a perfect successor to her when she leaves office. She is mentoring Hadley until she assumes her new role.

“Michelle was born and raised in Hopkinton,” Harrington explained. “She always shows up and has been dedicated to the ACC from the beginning.”

Her hope is that the experience will be as rewarding for Hadley as it has been for her.

“I’m not the type of person to sit on the sidelines,” she explained. “The ACC has given me this platform and has launched my career in a way that I had not seen before.”


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