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A Hands-On Trailblazer: Betty Pitcher, MD ’77/RMC

A Hands-On Trailblazer: Betty Pitcher, MD ’77/RMC

Betty Pitcher, MD ’76/RMC, faced a great deal of adversity in her life. With every challenge she encountered, the OB/GYN specialist, who practiced for nearly 25 years before retiring in 2001, not only overcame the obstacles, but she also found ways to grow as a health care professional.

Betty’s path in health care began as a nurse anesthetist while she studied in college. Growing up in a blue-collar family, she needed to cover her own costs while earning her degree. At age 38, she decided to pursue medical education, applying to 26 different institutions. She was accepted to one lone medical school: Rush Medical College. With her preparation at Rush, Betty went on to open her own private practice — a rare feat for a woman in the late 1970s — and then build a renowned obstetrics and gynecology career at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“Rush took a big risk with me, and it gave me the confidence I needed to create a practice and run it the way I always thought one should be run — where compassion is the driving principle,” Betty said. “The people were wonderful at Rush because they all wanted us to succeed.”

‘A very special relationship’

Betty was mentored by Leo M. Henikoff, MD, who previously served as president and CEO of Rush, and described him as a “great supporter.” As a medical student, she chose OB/GYN as a field to forge personal connections with patients.

“You don’t get to talk much to patients as an anesthetist. They just go to sleep,” Betty said. “And I love delivering babies. You develop a very special relationship when you care for women while they are pregnant.”

Following medical school, Betty went to Boston to work but found that women — both patients and her female colleagues — were facing unfair treatment. Starting her own practice was a chance to offer care for women that is more attuned to their personal experiences.

“Even after finally becoming a doctor myself, I saw that men were still getting away with being demeaning toward women,” Betty said. “After I started my own practice, I found that women were relieved to be seen by someone who really heard their concerns.”

Supporting future generations

Betty’s practice quickly grew in patient volume. In 1980 she joined Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where she became renowned as a practitioner who was extraordinarily hands-on and compassionate with her patients. Betty delivered around 99 percent of her patients’ babies, all the way up to her retirement in 2001. In recognition of the example she set for patient care, Betty was honored with an endowed chair in obstetrics research and a lecture series, both in her name.

Throughout her lengthy and distinguished career and into retirement, Betty has maintained ties to Rush as a longtime supporter, with annual support for efforts such as white coats and stethoscopes for first-year medical students, a planned legacy gift and other contributions. Betty’s alumni giving is her way of passing on what enabled her to succeed, she said.

“I had help along the way,” Betty said. “I want other people to have the same opportunities to grow at Rush as I had.”