About Dr. Shields


Alexandra Shields, PhD
Senior Scientist, HPRC
Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School


Alexandra Shields, PhD, is Director of the Harvard/MGH Center on Genomics, Vulnerable Populations, and Health Disparities; Associate Professor of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School; Associate in Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital; Associate Faculty in Molecular and Population Genetics at the Broad Institute at Harvard and MIT; and Presidential Scholar at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

An elected member of the National Academy of Social Insurance, Dr. Shields’ work addresses the impact of health system change on minority and other underserved populations. Her recent work addresses the underlying mechanisms through which psychosocial stress contributes to disease, as well as challenges associated with translating emerging genomics research into clinical practice, with a particular focus on interests of poor and minority patients and the providers who serve them. She has conducted several national studies addressing the preparedness of primary care physicians to incorporate genomic medicine into practice, patients’ attitudes and beliefs about genetics, and access to recommended genetic tests for low-income and minority patients. Dr. Shields also studies important ethical aspects of genomics research design, including the use of race constructs in genomics research and the inclusion of socio-environmental measures that capture the lived experience of poor communities in gene-environment studies.

Dr. Shields is the Director of the National Consortium on Psychosocial Stress, Spirituality, and Health, a unique international resource for empirically investigating the intersection of psychosocial stress, racial/ethnic disparities, and positive mediating resources for resiliency such as spirituality and religious coping. She also leads the Harvard-wide Gene-Environment and Disparities Research Initiative, which engages faculty from diverse disciplines in developing research designs that reflect the complex array of social, environmental, and behavioral factors affecting the etiology of health disparities in gene-environment studies.

Dr. Shields has authored over 40 peer-reviewed publications; co-directed the Health Disparities Research Program of the Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center; is an Executive Committee member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center’s Reduction of Cancer Risk and Disparities Program; and serves on advisory boards of several NIH and university-based research initiatives addressing genomics and health disparities. She holds a PhD in Health Policy from Brandeis University, where she was a Pew Health Policy Scholar, as well as a BA (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) and MA (with distinction) in Systematic Theology from Boston College.

Current Projects

John Templeton Foundation

National Spirituality and Health Consortium

Goals:  To strategically leverage the vast data currently available in high-quality prospective cohort studies to spur novel, world-class research on the role of religiosity/spirituality in human health

Role:  Principal Investigator

Dr. Shields on PubMed

BA, Boston College
MA, Systemic Theology, Boston College
PhD, Health Policy, Brandeis University