In her role as the first woman editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Catherine DeAngelis, M.D., has made a special effort to publish substantive scientific articles on women's health issues. The journal plays an important role in bringing new research to light, and featured articles can lead to fundamental changes in treatment. Under her editorship, the journal published a landmark study questioning the benefits of hormone replacement therapy in 2002. She also served as editor of the Archive of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, from 1993 to 2000.
Catherine DeAngelis was born and raised in a coal-mining town in northeastern Pennsylvania. As she grew older, DeAngelis considered working with the Maryknoll Sisters, a missionary order. Since medical school was not financially possible, she went into a three-year program to become a registered nurse, where she "read everything in the library and loved it." After graduation in 1960 she took a job at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, and later interviewed for the Maryknoll missions. At the interview she was told she would need to take some religion classes, because she hadn't had a Catholic education. She did not consider this an appealing prospect, and was not sure what to do. Her father said, "You stopped taking orders from me when you were two, so life as a missionary sister doesn't make sense." She then talked to her high school chemistry teacher, she told him, "I still want to be a doctor". His response was, "Why not, then?" When she was accepted in Wilkes University on his recommendation, she went home and told her parents she was going to college.
During her undergraduate years she worked as a nurse and set up an infirmary at Wilkes. She also worked in a laboratory, gaining valuable experience in immunology research. She went on to the University of Pittsburgh Medical School, again doing lab work, teaching student nurses and working in the V.A. hospital medical library to help cover her expenses.
After medical school, DeAngelis wanted to do pediatric transplant surgery, but began with a pediatric residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Working four hours a week at a free clinic in Baltimore, she began thinking about scientific ways to address the general problems she saw there. She had heard about Harvard University's program in health law and economics, and its community clinics, and realized that she could apply for a master's degree in public health fellowship with stipend, at the National Institutes of Health. So she earned her master of public health degree at Harvard and worked at the Roxbury (Massachusetts) comprehensive community clinic. She noticed that many patients were not receiving basic care, primarily because of access and financial problems. With a little more training for nurses, she thought, some of these problems could be addressed. To solve the problem, she wrote a textbook for nurse practitioner-medical resident teams, Basic Pediatrics for Primary Care Providers, published in 1973.
Form 1973 to 1975 she worked as a faculty member at Columbia College of Physicians on improving health care systems in Harlem and upper Manhattan in New York using physician-nurse practitioner teams. She then took a position at the University of Wisconsin, where her former chair of pediatrics, Robert Cook, MD was vice chancellor. He suggested she might want to be dean of the School of Health Sciences, but instead, she chose to organize a system for children's health care, which she did for the next three years.
In 1978 DeAngelis decided to move back East. She considered an offer from the University of Rochester, rather than Johns Hopkins, because she was impressed with the recruitment and interview process she had experienced. She was interviewed by resident's, not professors, and sent to dinner with one of the residents, rather than with senior faculty. She changed her mind and decided to take up a position at Hopkins after being persuaded by the chairman of the department of pediatrics there. In 1978 she began as chief of the new Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, then became deputy chair of the department, and was appointed vice dean for academic affairs and faculty in 1994.
When she was made a full professor in 1984, Dr. DeAngelis was only the twelfth woman in Hopkins's 94-year history to receive that rank. As vice-dean, she instituted a range of policies to improve these statistics: 68 percent of all women who have been made professor since the founding of Hopkins received their promotions while DeAngelis was vice-dean. Her success is especially ironic as her application to attend medical school there was rejected.