Margaret Benningfield, MD, MSc

Associate Professor
Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Village at Vanderbilt
1500 21st Ave South, Suite 2200

Dr. Meg Benningfield is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and Assistant Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University and Director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and pursued clinical training in psychiatry at Harvard. She completed residency in General Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospitals and a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cambridge Hospital. In 2008, she joined the faculty at Vanderbilt where she has pursued an academic career balanced between research, education, and clinical practice with a focus in prevention of addiction.

In 2010, Dr. Benningfield received a career development (K12) award funded by the National Institute for Drug Abuse through the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Physician Scientist Program in Substance Abuse. Her research uses fMRI to identify neurobiological markers for vulnerability in children at risk for substance use disorders. The primary focus of this work is to increase our understanding of the brain mechanisms related to reward drive and modulation of self-control. These mechanisms are critical for addiction vulnerability and may serve as important targets for prevention and early intervention.

Dr. Benningfield is the Medical Director of Vanderbilt’s School Based Mental Health Program. This program provides direct clinical services to about 900 students and their families each year in 37 of Metro Nashville’s Public Schools. Clinicians in the program also provide consultation to educators and administrators regarding mental health needs of students, educational accommodations for youth with mental illness, and crisis intervention. Dr. Benningfield is currently proposing a pilot project to implement a drug abuse prevention program in our school communities. She recently served as guest editor for a volume of The Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, "School Mental Health."

Active in both undergraduate and graduate medical education, Dr. Benningfield was elected to Vanderbilt's Academy for Excellence in Education in 2016. She is Course Designer and Co-Director for an Integrated Science Course, “Getting Hooked: Immersion in Addiction.” This innovative course for 3rd and 4th year medical students brings together clinical experience with cutting-edge neuroscience to equip future physicians with the knowledge and skills needed to adequately address addiction in multiple clinical settings. She is also the Department's Liaison for the medical student's Immersion Phase and provides clinical teaching and supervision for medical students, residents, and fellows in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Dr. Benningfield is a member of the Coalition on Physician Education in Substance Use Disorders, .

Research Information

Dr. Benningfield is a Child Psychiatrist whose primary interest lies in early intervention and prevention of mental illness including substance use disorders.

This work has used functional MRI to examine neurobiological factors related to vulnerability for addiction including impulsivity, risk taking and reward processing. Impulsivity and risk taking are both determinants and consequences of persistent substance use. Reward mechanisms are fundamental to facilitating the learning processes that mediate drug dependence. Understanding the neurobiology related to reward processing, impulsivity, and risk taking in adolescents and how these factors relate to one another is essential for informing prevention and treatment of substance use disorders.

Dr. Benningfield is also interested in how early interventions, like those implemented in our school based mental health program, impact substance use trajectories in youth with psychiatric illness.