Betsy MacGregor, MD

Betsy MacGregor, MS, MD

Death: Profound Mystery and Master Teacher


As the population in our country continues to age and the number of people who are approaching the end of life escalates, the importance of understanding how best to support both those with terminal illness and those who are caring for dying loved ones is becoming increasingly clear.

In this learning process, dying patients themselves often prove to be our greatest teachers. They challenge us to become ever-better caregivers and show us that a rigid focus on prolonging life as long as possible can sometimes be at odds with the quality of life that people truly want in their final days. They also show us how quickly our view of what is most valuable in life can shift when we realize that we have little time left.

Witnessing the reality of death is a powerful, even life-changing experience. It has the power to wake us up to the mystery and meaning of life in a way that no other experience can. In the presence of impending death, all sense of ordinariness drops away, and the existence that we so easily take for granted can suddenly be seen for the miracle that it truly is.

With support in seeing from that transformed perspective, many people, including the dying person and their families, friends and professional caregivers, can have profoundly meaningful and healing experiences as death approaches, including truth-telling and expressions of love, forgiveness and gratitude that might not have been possible otherwise.


Academic background

  • BA from Wellesley College
  • Masters of Science in Neurobiology from NYU Graduate School
  • MD from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.


Over nearly three decades:

  • Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan
    • Staff Pediatrician
    • Director of Adolescent Medicine
    • Founded and directed:
      • Pediatric Pain Management and Comfort Care Program
      • Hospital-wide Program for Humanistic and Complementary Health Care
  • Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Three year research project:

Then, as a Faculty Scholar with the George Soros Open Society Institute’s Project on Death in America, she directed a three-year research project entitled Dying and the Inner Life, aimed at learning from adults with terminal illness about what it means to face the reality of one’s own dying.

Current work and affiliations

Betsy has always been passionate about the psychological, social and spiritual dimensions of health, illness, healing and dying, and has conducted numerous focus groups, workshops and retreats for health care professionals around these issues. She now lives in the Pacific Northwest and is a writer, a speaker, and a founding Board Member of Enso House, a hospice residence providing compassionate, holistic care for terminally ill patients and their families. Having been a cancer patient in her own hospital, she has a deep appreciation for the miraculous gift that life truly is.

Betsy’s award-winning book, In Awe of Being Human: A Doctor’s Stories from the Edge of Life and Death, weaves tales of the seriously-ill children and adults who have been her patients together with descriptions of the soul-stretching experiences that physicians undergo in seeking to help people whose lives are at stake. Her compelling stories take readers deep into the challenging world of hospitals, the medical professionals who work in them, and the ever-present mystery of life and death.