How the doctor turned pandemic fears into an opportunity to address public health
Claire Harvey Photography
While most of us were wiping away our groceries and rationing toilet paper at the start of the pandemic, GP Lucy Martin McBride was busy at work in ’95. “I couldn’t get on the phone fast enough to answer my patients’ questions,” says the Washington, DC-based mother of three. To be more efficient, she began writing a daily newsletter for her patients, friends and family, which she calls “a practical guide to navigating the chaos of the early days of the pandemic.” Email has taken on a life of its own and now reaches around 18,000 inboxes each week.
Post-vaccination, McBride still devotes part of the newsletter to COVID, but also uses it to explore other areas of healthcare. “Before the pandemic, I wanted to educate a wider audience about the importance of mental health and think about health in general as more than just your cholesterol and the number on the dial.” She adds that COVID has helped shed light on “how vulnerable we are as individuals and as a society when faced with an existential threat”.
Today, McBride reaches audiences on multiple platforms: in her practice, through her newsletter, on committees, through public speaking, and most recently, her podcast. launched April, Beyond the recipe features interviews with people who are “looking at the surface to figure it all out,” but underneath it all are struggling with physical and emotional challenges, says McBride.
She has also become a regular news commentator for various media outlets including CNN, MSNBC and Bloomberg and has spoken to dozens of organizations including the World Bank, Morgan Stanley and Princeton. She has served on the COVID-19 task force for a number of Washington schools, testified before a committee on the impact of COVID-19 on America’s public health system, and is a founding member of the Urgency of Normal – a group of doctors and scientists Working together to help schools appropriately balance the harms of the virus and the harms of mitigation.
“The most challenging and rewarding part of my job is helping people bring about behavior change. If you can normalize their experiences and then give them a place to go, some hope, some guidance and some support, then people are ready to make a change.” —Dr. Lucy McBride ’95
McBride, who grew up in Washington, DC, knew since high school that she wanted to be a doctor, but took the opportunity to exercise the other side of her brain whenever possible. At Princeton, she majored in art history while taking pre-med courses, knowing she would be “doing hard science my whole life.” As a student, McBride met her husband Thaddeus McBride in ’95 and the couple lived in England for a year after graduation. McBride did research on cystic fibrosis for her Fulbright scholarship at Cambridge University and Thad played for Cambridge United Football Club. She attended Harvard Medical School and completed her residency at Johns Hopkins University. During her internship year, McBride became pregnant with their first son. She describes this period of her life as the most difficult thing she has ever done. “[It]really forced me to take stock of my own emotional health and what was most important to me about being a mom,” she says. “It forced me to give up the idea that you could cross every ‘T’ and dot every ‘I’. That was good.”
McBride brings this philosophy to her podcast. “One of the things I’ve learned through this public role and through my writing is that health is about so much more than the absence of disease,” she says, “and modern medicine defines health so narrowly. The podcast is her vehicle to “help people understand that not only are they vulnerable to disease, but they are vulnerable to despair,” and to help them with both. She does this through stories. “If you’re trying to educate or counsel a patient about behavior change, you can tell them what to do all day, but it’s not until they hear stories that normalize their experience and relate to that they think: ‘Oh, okay, that’s me. I can do that too.'”
One of their first guests was Mika Brzezinski, journalist and co-moderator of morning joe, and they talked about their relationship with food. Other guests include her patient, Kathleen Buhle, Hunter Biden’s first wife and author of When We Break: A Remembrance of Marriage, Addiction, and Healing. Buhle spoke openly about the relationship trauma, denial and pain that affected her own health and credits McBride with saving her life. “When I felt like I couldn’t share my painful secrets with anyone, I let Lucy in,” Buhle tells PAW via email.
It’s not surprising that the podcast has picked up steam. Average monthly downloads per episode of Beyond the recipe have consistently placed it in the top 20th percentile of all published podcasts, according to metrics from podcast distribution platform Libsyn. Her podcast has been downloaded more than 25,000 times.
Read the 2020 PAW story about McBride
Guests start calling her “because apparently it’s cool to be vulnerable,” she laughs. “The most challenging and rewarding part of my job is helping people bring about behavior change. If you can normalize their experiences and then give them a place to go, some hope, some guidance and some support, then people are ready to make a change.”
McBride makes it clear that their achievements are a group effort. She has a professional team to help her with the podcast, social media, and planning. And then there’s her neighbor, Princeton Senior Page Lester, who has been helping her “forever” with editing and formatting the newsletter. She also scaled back her practice in 2021 to make room “to reach a wider audience with these universal issues.” Of course, that still includes navigating through COVID. “As we move toward being endemic and confronting the uncomfortable reality that COVID is here to stay, it’s especially important to name and normalize our fear, practice self-compassion, and give each other leeway as we adapt to a world after.” adapt to the pandemic. ‘ says McBride.
Ultimately, her goal is to continue helping others, she says. McBride recently signed a book deal with Simon and Schuster to continue the podcast theme of a holistic approach to wellness while also addressing some of her own struggles with vulnerability, anxiety and postpartum depression. “I’m about to throw myself under the bus,” she laughs.