Medscape at 25: Recognizing Medicine's Rising Stars

Becky Lang


December 07, 2020

Mary B. Rice, MD, MPH, is a pulmonary and critical care physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. She is the chair of the Environmental Health Policy Committee of the American Thoracic Society and has testified before Congress several times on the connection between human health and climate change.

Step outside and take a deep breath. If you live in a neighborhood that's closer to an industrial plant, that deep breath will pull in more pollutants. For Mary B. Rice, MD, MPH, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, it's a stark example of health inequity.

She sees patients with chronic lung diseases in her clinic in Chelsea, Massachusetts, which is near Boston's airport and one of the metro area's more polluted cities. "I hear firsthand from my patients how they're affected by poor air quality," Rice says.

As an internal medicine resident, she already had a strong interest in public health and policy, and particularly people's relationships with their environment. So she began to focus her research on air pollution and how it affects overall health.

"Kids' exposure to pollution today may influence how healthy they are when they grow up to be adults," says Rice, who finished her residency in 2010 and is now an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. "Some people are more susceptible [to chronic lung disease] than others simply because they live closer to sources of pollution that they can't control."

People can try to control the air inside their homes, though. Rice's latest research project will study the effect of HEPA air purifiers in the houses of COPD patients, and how a year of cleaner air may affect their lung function. She'll start recruiting early in 2021 for the 5-year study.

With the pandemic forcing more people to work from home, Rice has watched Boston's air quality improve as fewer commuters drive to the office. And she hopes some aspect of that change will stick after COVID-19.

"I am hoping that as we emerge from this, we think hard about decisions related to energy [use] and urban planning so we can make decisions related to air quality," Rice says.

She also hopes that pulmonologists and other healthcare providers become thought leaders on climate change.

"I think it's within our reach for the medical profession to move this country away from fossil-fuel burning for energy for the sake of human health and clean air," Rice says.

As part of Medscape's celebration of our 25th anniversary this year, we're recognizing 25 young physicians who are rising stars in medicine, poised to become future leaders of their fields. View the full list here.


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