Amalia Peterson, MD, MS, Faculty Spotlight

As she approaches her one-year anniversary at Vanderbilt, Dr. Amalia Peterson reflects on the strong research program and other qualities that attracted her to Vanderbilt in the first place. Dr. Peterson’s time is split between research and clinical duties, which complement each other as she explores questions regarding risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. In her free time, she enjoys exploring Nashville’s food scene with her husband and dog. 

Tell us about your background.

I grew up in Chicago. I attended Pomona College for undergrad, which is a small liberal arts school in Southern California. I completed medical school at the University of Michigan, followed by neurology residency in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (University of North Carolina). From there, I went to Columbia University for a fellowship in behavioral neurology. After that, I landed here at Vanderbilt, where I’m hoping to stay long term, especially since I haven’t lived anywhere longer than four years since leaving Chicago! 

What attracted you to Vanderbilt?

I am interested in research, and Vanderbilt has a strong research presence in Alzheimer’s disease, which is expanding. Vanderbilt has resources and mentorship available to help me become a successful researcher. From a clinical perspective, Vanderbilt is also a referral center for multiple states nearby, so we see a lot of patients and many different diseases.

In addition, when I was interviewing here, everyone was very nice and seemed to enjoy Vanderbilt and Nashville, as well as working together. 

Dr. Amalia Peterson

What do you think of Nashville so far?

I like it a lot! Chapel Hill was a bit too small, and New York City was too big. Nashville seems like the right size. There is lots to do without feeling overwhelming.

What are your research interests?

Two thirds of people living with Alzheimer’s disease are women, so I'm trying to understand why that is–whether there are certain risk factors unique to women, or whether the risk factors are the same but are just greater in women. 

What does that research entail for you currently?

There are research studies at Vanderbilt that follow participants over time to try to understand more about Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. We have two cohorts of research participants followed here at Vanderbilt specifically for Alzheimer’s disease. I help with those research projects by doing clinical evaluations and lumbar punctures for the participants. My plan is to use data from those studies to try to answer those questions about risk factors. My time is spent in a mix of clinical and research responsibilities. 

Who have been some important mentors for you along the way?

I had a professor in undergrad who got me interested in neuroscience and research, so that started me on the research path. In residency, I had a mentor who was really passionate about people with dementia and trying to help those patients—both by giving them a diagnosis and helping them achieve the best quality of life that they could. So that got me interested in that subspecialty. 

What do you see as next career steps?

I think establishing a research program here at Vanderbilt and continuing to see patients clinically. I hope that I can take the research I’m working on in order to help the patients I follow in clinic. And vice versa, seeing patients in clinic can generate new research ideas. 

How do you like to spend your free time?

I’m here with my husband and my dog. We don’t do anything too exciting. We like to explore the food scene. 

Do you have a favorite go-to restaurant? 

We live pretty close to a taco place called Redheaded Stranger, so that’s our go-to if we need a night out and relatively quick meal. 

Do you have any upcoming travel plans?

My husband’s family still lives in Chapel Hill, so we often go there and to Chicago to see family. 

Are you reading/watching/listening to anything interesting right now?

All of the above. Oftentimes at night my go-to is trying to find a show that both my husband and I can agree on to watch. Right now that is Silo on Apple Plus. 

What does your morning routine look like?

I get up when my dog gets up. He and I go out for a walk. Then it’s breakfast and out the door.

Dr. Amalia Peterson