Lillian Gonsalves, MD, FAPM, FACP (P’81), recipient of the 2023 Alumni Association Distinguished Emeritus Award, was the first psychiatrist to serve on Cleveland Clinic’s Board of Governors and held a variety of leadership positions before retiring from Cleveland Clinic after 41 years.
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“Her remarkable career has contributed to the field of psychiatry and has touched the lives of countless individuals, providing them with compassionate care and unwavering support,” says Beri Ridgeway, MD (UG/PS’09), Chief of Staff, who nominated Dr. Gonsalves for the award.
Dr. Gonsalves says she was surprised to receive the award, which recognizes exceptional leadership and dedication to advancing Cleveland Clinic’s mission throughout one’s career. “When Dr. Leo Pozuelo (P’97) called to share the news with me, I was totally floored! I am touched by this recognition.”
Dr. Gonsalves was a clinical professor at the Lerner College of Medicine, a staff member in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology, and held a joint appointment in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Center for Specialized Women’s Health. She could not have predicted the course of her highly successful career when she emigrated to Cleveland from Bombay, India, in 1977, to embark on her psychiatry residency. Although she left her home and family behind in Bombay, where the average winter temperature is in the 80s, and landed in Cleveland during its worst blizzard and coldest season ever recorded, she never left.
“I owe Cleveland Clinic and my colleagues a great deal for being my second family,” she says. She credits her mentor, the late Dr. Dale Gulledge (P’92), for opening doors for her. “He truly was the father of consultation liaison (C/L) psychiatry. He got me involved on national committees and sparked my interest in C/L psychiatry.”
Early on, Dr. Gonsalves made her mark at Cleveland Clinic as Chief Resident in the Department of Psychiatry. On completing her residency, she didn’t forget her experience or simply move on in her career. Instead, she worked to improve the environment for other women physicians. “I was one of nine women residents in training, and there were a handful of female staff in the early ’80s,” she says. “We needed a supportive network to share our work experiences, so Dr. Wilma Bergfeld (D’68), Dr. Gita Gidwani (OB/GYN’10), Dr. Ruth Imrie (PD’80), and I met as a small group, which was the start of the Women’s Professional Staff organization (WPSA).” She became President of the organization. “Now, 41% of the staff are female, and WPSA is a huge resource for them.”
Becoming the first psychiatrist to serve on the Board of Governors in 1998 was the accomplishment of which she says she is most proud, particularly because of the insights she gained. “I was impressed with how dedicated the staff are to patient care, education and research, and I learned how our world-class institution functions,” she says. “I wish that more staff had an opportunity to serve on the Board. In the end, I got more than I gave.”
Dr. Gonsalves also excelled as Secretary and President of the Cleveland Clinic Alumni Association, and in 2015, she received the Alumni Association’s Service Award. Being President of the Alumni Association “was a great way to stay connected to local, national and international alumni,” she says. “It was a pleasure to hear about their personal and professional lives.”
One of Dr. Gonsalves’ favorite roles was as mentor to women physicians early in their careers. “I helped them learn when to ramp off and on the career ladder, sharing my experiences of balancing family and work obligations,” she says. In addition, as Interim Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology, she influenced that department’s trajectory.
Beyond Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Gonsalves has influenced psychiatry nationally, being recognized as a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. She also is active locally in the Cleveland Psychiatric Society and the Ohio Psychiatric Association. However, it is an opportunity at Cleveland Clinic that stands out most for her. “I will always remember the phone call in the mid-’80s from retired OB/GYN Dr. Gita Gidwani, who asked that I start a clinic with her because her patients with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) were driving her up the wall! That was the beginning of my interest and large practice in women’s mental health. I will forever be grateful to Gita for her mentorship.”
Dr. Gonsalves’ gratitude does not end there. “A debt of gratitude to my anesthesiologist husband of 46 years, Zeyd Ebrahim, MD (AN’81), my daughter, Nadia, a physician, and son, Adam, a lawyer, for contributing in unique ways to make my career a fulfilling one. They make me proud!”
Now that she and her husband both are retired, Dr. Gonsalves says she is looking forward to “enjoying unstructured time and traveling with my husband, children and four grandchildren.” That doesn’t mean she is done with Cleveland Clinic, however. She adds that, as contract staff, “I also am looking forward to mentoring early career physicians.”