Manson, JoAnn E.

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Manson, JoAnn E.


Physician and researcher

B orn JoAnn Elisabeth Manson, April 14, 1953, in Cleveland, OH; daughter of S. Stanford (an engineer) and Therese Palay (a medical social worker) Manson; married Christopher N. Ames (an attorney), June 12, 1979; children: Jenn, Jeffrey, Joshua. Education: Harvard University, A.B., 1975; Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, OH, M.D., 1979; Harvard University School of Public Health, M.P.H., 1984; Harvard University School of Public Health, Dr.P.H., 1987.

Addresses: Contact—Brigham and Women’s Hospital, 900 Commonwealth Ave. E., 3rd Floor, Boston, MA 02215-1204. Home—Beverly, MA.


R esident in internal medicine, Harvard Medical School, 1979-82; fellowship in endocrinology, University Hospital, Boston, 1982-84; research fellowship, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, 1984-87; staff physician/consulting endocrinologist, Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, 1986-2003; co-director of women’s health in preventive medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, 1993—; chief of preventive medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, 1999—; professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School, 1999—; Elizabeth Brigham professor of women’s health, Harvard Medical School, 2003—.

Member: Fellow, American College of Physicians; fellow, American College of Epidemiology; American Medical Association; American Medical Women’s Association; American Heart Association; American Diabetes Association; steering committee, Women’s Health Initiative; Association of American Physicians; Alpha Omega Alpha.

Awards: Hero in women’s health, American Health for Women magazine, 1997; Mary Horrigan Connors Award for outstanding leadership in women’s health, 1999; Top 10 champions of women’s health, Ladies’ Home Journal, 2000; top docs for women, Boston Magazine, 2001; Henry Ingersoll Bowditch Award for excellence in public health, Massachusetts Medical Society, 2002; women in science award, American Medical Women’s Association, 2003; women’s professional achievement award, Harvard College, 2006.


H arvard Medical School professor JoAnn E. Manson has dedicated her career to the in-depth study of women’s health and is considered one of the most knowledgeable physicians on the subject. Manson served as the lead investigator in several landmark women’s health studies, including two of the largest women’s research projects ever launched—the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study and the Women’s Health Initiative established by the National Institutes of Health. Each study involved more than 120,000 participants.

Manson used data from the studies to explore the risk factors for major chronic diseases in women. She studied data on diet, hormone replacement therapy, and the use of vitamin supplements to see how they related to cardiovascular disease. In the end, Manson has determined that a fit and active lifestyle is the best medicine. “If someone said there was an elixir that reduces your risk of almost every major disease, wouldn’t everyone be clamoring to get ahold of it?” Manson asked USA Today’s Nanci Hellmich. “I’m convinced from the research that a sedentary lifestyle kills you, and moderate activity like walking can be a lifesaver.”

Manson was born on April 14, 1953, in Cleveland, Ohio. Her father, S. Stanford, worked as an engineer for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Her mother, Therese, was a medical social worker. Growing up, Manson enjoyed science but also had an artistic side—she played the harp, painted, and created sculptures; however, Manson decided to study medicine after being influenced by a high school chemistry teacher who championed the cause of placing more women in medicine.

While Manson’s pre-med studies at Harvard University kept her busy with the sciences, she also found time for the arts, working as a dance and theater reviewer for the Harvard Independent. After graduating from Harvard in 1975, Manson attended Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. She earned her medical degree in 1979, then chose to focus her residency on internal medicine—specifically endocrinology, which is the study of hormones. She completed her residency in Boston.

Initially, Manson figured she would go into clinical practice but, in 1979, her mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After watching her mother battle with and eventually die of the disease, Man-son switched career paths, deciding she would rather study women’s health and preventive medicine. Manson enrolled in an epidemiology and biostatistics program at the Harvard School of Public Health, earning a master’s degree in 1984 and a doctorate in 1987.

Manson is a methodical scientist. She has spent much of her career scouring data from the Nurses’ study. First launched in the 1970s, the study has collected data from more than 120,000 nurses, following some for more than 20 years. Manson also worked with the Women’s Health Initiative, which is studying postmenopausal health. Many of the health recommendations made to women today are a result of the studies with which Manson has worked. Data from both studies—culled from detailed questionnaires—showed that fiber prevents heart attacks in women and that adult-onset diabetes risk can be reduced by diet and exercise.

According to an article in the Boston Globe, data from the Nurses’ study showed that if a woman ate well, exercised regularly, and gave up unhealthy habits like smoking, she could cut her risk of heart disease by 80 percent, her risk of diabetes by 90 percent, and her risk of cancer by 50 percent. Manson used this research to write a book detailing how women can improve their cardiovascular health. The result was The 30Minute Fitness Solution: A Four-Step Plan for Women of All Ages, co-written with Patricia Amend. Published in 2001, the book was aimed at getting inactive women moving. It explains the short and long-term benefits of exercise, then lays out options for women to get them going.

According to the Boston Globe’s Karen Hsu, Manson wrote a 1999 article in the New England Journal of Medicine—using findings from the Nurses’ study— which reported that just three hours of brisk walking a week could reduce heart attacks in women. Manson encourages everyone to walk for exercise. She also practices what she preaches. During her lunch break, Manson takes a brisk, 20minute walk and, on weekends, she goes on an hour-long hike with her family. Manson is married with three children.

Over the course of her career, Manson has published some 400 articles, mostly on women’s health. The only blip in Manson’s career came in 1997 after she wrote an editorial in a medical journal endorsing the use of Redux, a diet pill. After the editorial was printed, it was revealed that she had worked as a paid consultant for the pill’s manufacturer. The journal’s editors admonished Manson, saying she should have revealed that the company had previously paid her as a consultant.

In 1999, Manson was appointed to a full professor-ship at the Harvard Medical School, a place where only nine percent of professorships are held by women. That same year, she was made chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which is affiliated with Harvard.

Besides being good with research and data, Manson has an impeccable bedside manner, according to patients. Anna Andrews told the Boston Globe’s Hsu, “I have a white coat syndrome. My heart beats harder just at the sight of it, but the first thing she does is give you a big smile, and says ‘Let’s talk.’ She’s never rushed me.”

In a 2007 health article, the Boston Globe consulted Manson, asking for her health tips. She made these suggestions: Wear a pedometer—research shows that those who do walk an extra mile each day; add strength training to exercise regimens—it is crucial for preventing muscle and bone loss; do not rely on vitamins—try to get nutrition from foods; eat two fish meals a week—research shows fish oils are beneficial for the heart and brain; consider aspirin for heart protection—but be sure to discuss this with a doctor because it is not right for everyone.



Marquis Who’s Who, Marquis Who’s Who, 2008.


Boston Globe, September 13, 1999, p. C1; December 31, 2007, p. C1.

Boston Herald, September 15, 1997, p. 12.

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine Alumni News, 10, no. 3, 2004.

Newsweek, January 16, 2006, pp. 64-69.

USA Today, November 13, 2002, p. 9D.


“Changing the Face of Medicine: Dr. JoAnn Elisabeth Manson,” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, (January 27, 2008).

“JoAnn E. Manson, M.D.,” Time, (January 27, 2008).

“JoAnn Manson, Professor in the Department of Epidemiology,” Harvard School of Public Health, (March 24, 2008).

—Lisa Frick