Dr. Bernadine Healy

My parents, and particularly my father, thought it was wonderful for a woman to be a doctor. And in those days, when I was growing up, it was really exceptional, unusual, for a woman to pursue a career in medicine. And as far as my father was concerned, it was the perfect place for me to go. It was a place where I could use my intelligence and my hard work, but also make a difference. When I went to Harvard Medical School there were roughly 10 percent— less than 10 percent—of the class were women. And in those days—although they probably don’t like to remember this— medical schools had quotas, and there was the prevailing attitude that women were taking up a spot that wasn’t necessarily going to be used as well as a spot filled by a man. Women had to have, I think, better academic credentials, and often go through much tougher screening. When I was at NIH (National Institutes of Health), there were a number of wonderful challenges, and a number of very difficult ones... the Women’s Health Initiative, which I, believe it or not, announced to the Congress of the United States roughly three weeks after I was Director, in which I said, “We need a moon walk for women.” And I laid out the general concept of the Women’s Health Initiative. That it would be holistic. That it would involve not one organ, or one disease, but in fact, major illnesses and issues of wellness that affect women—particularly in that over-50 range where most women, most people, face their illnesses, and see their lives demolished, often, by diseases that often can be prevented. Something that really paid attention to that huge gap in our knowledge, our clinical and our basic knowledge. I saw 9/11 through very, very personal, up-close experiences. And one of the things that I came away from that experience with is the incredible role that we, as physicians—because of our knowledge and our experiences, one-on-one with human beings, at the most critical time in their lives—how physicians can bring a certain comfort, just by being physicians, to people at that time. Not always to patients, but to people. I think any young person who is thinking about a career in medicine, should keep thinking. It is one of the most extraordinary careers, and one of the most amazing intellectual journeys—because medicine is something that keeps you humble all the time, because there’s always new information that makes you challenge yesterday’s thinking. It is something that is also so humane. I mean all of us, I believe, in our hearts are humanitarian. And how wonderful to be in a career that in almost any dimension of it—whether you’re the doctor at the bedside, or the scientist in the laboratory, or the public health doc tracking down the latest epidemic—that you are doing something that is pure in it’s fundamental purpose, which is helping another human being. And you may not always see that.