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Several pictures of doctors who are featured on the Local Legends web site

MEET LOCAL LEGEND: Nancy Tarbell, M.D.

Picture of Nancy Tarbell
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Nancy Tarbell, M.D.

“I love my job. Sometimes I'll get a card from a person I treated as a child 20 years ago, and it always touches and amazes me that I was able to help a child in such a profound way.”


Barney Frank



Nancy Tarbell's work on behalf of pediatric cancer patients has made a difference in the lives of thousands and brought her awards and national recognition, but she almost didn't become a doctor. She had just graduated from the University of Rhode Island in the spring of 1973 as a psychology major and was planning a trip to Europe, when a college friend, Patti Bannon, intervened. "You should be a doctor," her friend said, "You should go to summer school, not Europe. I've already called and told the Dean you were signing up for the summer pre-med program at Columbia." Nancy Tarbell thought it over, canceled her trip to Europe, and enrolled in the pre-med program that summer.

"I'd never thought of being a doctor," Nancy Tarbell says today, "but my friend saw something in me." It was a moment in a friendship that led to the start of an auspicious career in medicine that has brought Nancy Tarbell to the forefront in pediatric radiation oncology and the long and hopeful battle to cure children of cancer.

Radiation Oncology was not a particularly attractive field in the 1970s when Nancy Tarbell had to choose a specialty as a resident at Harvard Medical School. She drew a high number on the list that allows med students their preferences for medical residency and ended up in radiation oncology, at that time somewhat of a medical backwater, but today one of the most competitive residencies in the country.

As Chief of the Pediatric Radiation Oncology Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Director of the Partners Office for Women's Careers at MGH, she has committed herself to improving the health of young cancer patients as well as increasing the opportunities for women in health professions.

Elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, Nancy Tarbell has often been cited for her creativity and expertise in treating pediatric brain tumors. She teaches as a Professor of Radiation Oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital (affiliated with the Harvard Medical School) and serves on the Pediatric Oncology Group Brain Tumor Committee. She is also the founder of the Children's Oncology Group, a nation-wide organization dedicated to researching and curing childhood cancer.

Nominated by Representative Barney Frank (D-MA-4th), Nancy Tarbell was born in Hudson, MA and received her medical degree from SUNY Upstate Medical Center, in Syracuse, NY, and her medical internship at Beth Israel Hospital, Boston, MA.

She is widely published in her field with over 200 articles and book contributions, and is a co-author and editor of Pediatric Radiation Oncology (in its third edition).

"Radiation oncology has changed dramatically," Nancy Tarbell says today. "My whole focus now is on how to decrease the side effects of radiation and still cure the child. "



Appointed Director, Pediatric Radiation Oncology Unit, Department of Radiation Oncology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA


Appointed Director, Office for Women's Careers, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA


Appointed Professor of Radiation Oncology, Massachusetts General Hospital (Harvard Medical School--Teaching Affiliate), Boston, MA


Elected Member, Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.




SUNY Upstate Medical Center, Syracuse, NY


Pediatric Radiation Oncology

Sub Specialty

Medical Education