“I wanted to be the kind of physician who paid attention to my patients, and didn't dismiss my patients' complaints.”
Eleanor Holmes Norton
“REPRESENTING EVERY WOMAN'S HEALTH...”
In her role as director of the Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH), Vivian Pinn is in a unique position to help ensure that women's health issues and women are well represented in NIH research efforts. In many ways, her current role is the culmination of a lifelong focus on medicine and advocacy for access to good health care for everyone.
Before coming to NIH, Pinn was professor and chair of the Department of Pathology at Howard University. Previously, she held teaching appointments at Tufts University and Harvard Medical School. At Tufts she was assistant dean for student affairs and an advocate for minority students.
Born to modest circumstances in Lynchburg, Virginia, Pinn grew up during the era of segregation, and the city schools she attended were segregated. From an early age, she knew she wanted to be a doctor despite the fact that she did not know any women doctors. As a girl, she helped to care for her grandparents, who had health problems (even giving her diabetic grandmother her insulin shots).
Her interest in women's health and women's issues grew out of this experience and from a profound personal loss. When Pinn was 19, her mother became ill. The medical professionals who attended to her did not take her health complaints seriously. The doctor who examined her mother, Pinn recalls, "dismissed my mother's complaints, prescribing special shoes and exercise for her painful back aches." Shortly thereafter, her mother died of bone cancer!
Fueled by her deep loss, Pinn was determined to become a doctor and her family supported her dream. She earned a scholarship to Wellesley College-a women's college with a supportive environment, graduated in 1962 and enrolled in medical school at the University of Virginia. As the only African-American and only woman in her class, she was doubly distinguished.
While Pinn intended to become a pediatrician, during a summer internship at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston, she developed a passion for research. Of those years, she recalls, "I learned to manage challenges by viewing them as a source of excitement and opportunity, instead of fearing them. With so few women in medicine in the 1960s and 1970s, I was often only one of the few involved in my chosen professional activities. My philosophy then and now is not to let obstacles, no matter how great, stand in the way of accomplishing your goals. To do this, you have to be intellectually prepared and dedicated."
The recipient of numerous awards and honors, Pinn is past president of the National Medical Association. She received the Elizabeth Blackwell Award from the American Medical Women's Association, in 1995, the year she was elected to the National Academies of Science Institute of Medicine. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well.
Only woman and only African-American in her medical school class
First African-American woman to chair an academic pathology department-Howard University College of Medicine
Named first full-time director of Office of Research on Women's Health at the National Institutes of Health
University of Virginia School of Medicine
Education and Administration
District of Columbia