Robert Doyle, MD

Rob Doyle, MD, is a clinical instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and is on the medical staff at Harvard’s prestigious teaching hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Doyle is also on the staff at Harvard University Health Services, where he counsels hundreds of Harvard students each year on alcohol-related problems, depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other issues. He is also a consultant psychiatrist at McLean Hospital, one of the most respected mental health facilities in the United States and a Harvard teaching hospital.

Dr. Doyle is certified in both adult and child/adolescent psychiatry with a special interest in alcohol/substance abuse, ADHD, autism, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, obesity, mind/body medicine, international medicine, and psychopharmacology. In the field of alcohol abuse/dependence, he received the Scaife Foundation Scholarship, which allowed him to complete a fellowship in alcohol and substance abuse treatment at the world-renowned Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs, California. He has also frequently attended meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) as part of his training and during his clinical practice to gain insight into the problems of alcohol abuse/dependence. These experiences led him to the idea of intervening before people have reached the AA stage, and to this breakthrough concept: Almost Alcoholic — From Recognition to Resolution.

Q&A with Rob Doyle, MD

  • Why did you switch from being a dentist to being a medical doctor?

    The main reason I switched from dentistry to psychiatry was that I had narcolepsy and didn’t know it. My classmates in dental school gave me nicknames like “the narcolept” and “whiplash.” The latter alluded to my habit of head bobbing as I tried to fight falling asleep in class. My primary care physician never diagnosed the chronic sleepiness, he simply advised me to exercise more, eat better and so forth.
  • Why did you go into psychiatry?

    The undiagnosed narcolepsy made me think that I was bored with dentistry. The interesting aspect of my narcolepsy was that it mainly happened whenever I found myself in a sedentary activity. Lecture classes were a torture, but I could breeze through lab classes since I could move around and not be stuck in one place. Narcolepsy affected all areas of my life. I couldn’t drive an hour without a nap, much less stay awake for an entire movie. Somehow, I mistook my narcolepsy symptoms for boredom, and I blamed dentistry for the boredom even though the sleep attacks happened in other situations.

    Something had to change. I thought medicine would be more exciting, and I gravitated to psychiatry, because I felt it would be the most interesting.

  • What is one of your most memorable experiences in medical school?

    I have many amazing memories from medical school, but one of the best was the common cold that saved my life. About a month or two into my first semester, I caught a nagging cold. While sitting in the waiting room of the student clinic, I started chatting with a classmate sitting next to me. She told me that she was waiting to see the doctor about her narcolepsy. I mentioned my plight of falling asleep in class, church and other situations. I assured her that my sleepiness was merely boredom, since I would never fall asleep crossing a street like some people with narcolepsy might do. She interrupted me saying:
    Rob, you know narcolepsy is a spectrum disorder. You might not have cataplexy, but you still could be pretty impaired with other symptoms.

    This was my “Eureka!” moment. I didn’t fall asleep crossing the street, but would fall asleep driving, which was equally dangerous. Maybe impairment counted more than the classic symptoms described in textbooks. Maybe the textbook was wrong, and the first year medical student was right.

  • Why did you write Almost Alcoholic?

    Looking back, I suppose that brief conversation with my classmate generated the spark that made me start thinking disease states as dimensional rather than categorical diagnoses. The spark became a flame that shed light on my clinical work and inspired me to write Almost Alcoholic.
  • What do you hope readers will get out of reading Almost Alcoholic?

    I suffered for years before I knew I had a problem. I hope our readers will recognize problems in their relationship with alcohol before these rise to the level of a diagnosable condition. Joe Nowinski and I wrote Almost Alcoholic to help people take an honest look at their relationship with alcohol. We also offer insights in spotting problems in other people’s relationship with alcohol. Our goal is never to point fingers, but rather to provide understanding and a positive approach to changing problem drinking patterns.
  • What are your plans for next year?

    I will continue to teach psychiatry board review courses. I am scheduled to give presentations at the European Psychiatric Association Annual Conference in Prague, Czech Republic as well as Grand Rounds at the University of Chieti in Italy. My plan is to stay busy on the Massachusetts General Department of Psychiatry Diversity Committee by developing Diversity Dialogues. These are experiential programs in which members the Committee help clinicians in other departments and institutions see their work through the multifaceted lens of cultural diversity. Our goal aims to share insights about cultural sensitivity while helping others realize that cultural diversity as an asset. Cultural diversity has made this country a better place, and it can make an institution a more interesting and fulfilling place to work.
  • What do you like to do outside of work?

    Lately, I’ve been spending my free time painting. My medium is latex, rather than oils; and my paint comes from Home Depot rather than the art supply store. No, I’m not painting frescoes like Michelangelo, I’m simply renovating a historic townhouse. This provides me with an artistic outlet on weekends. Moreover, the work of matching stains, repairing plasterwork, and the like draws on my basic dental skills, but on a much larger scale of course. As I finish one project, another one always pops up. Like a rainbow, it is hard to find an end to it.