Bernadine Healy Biography (1944-)


Bernadine Healy is a cardiologist and health administrator who was the firstwoman to head the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from 1991 to 1993. Known for her outspokenness, innovative policy making, and sometimes controversial leadership in medical and research institutions, Healy has been particularly effective in addressing medical policy and research pertaining to women. She spent the early part of her career at Johns Hopkins University whereshe rose to full professor on the medical school faculty while also undertaking significant administrative responsibilities. She served as deputy scienceadvisor to President Ronald Reagan from 1984-1985. In 1985 she was appointedHead of the Research Institute of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation where sheremained until her appointment as director of the NIH in 1991. Healy was alsopresident of the American Heart Association from 1988-1989 and has served onnumerous national advisory committees. Healy was named dean of the College of Medicine and Public Health at Ohio State University in 1995. And in the fall of 1999 she became president of the American Red Cross.

The second of Michael J. and Violet (McGrath) Healy's four daughters, Bernadine Patricia Healy was born August 2, 1944, in New York City and grew up in Long Island City, Queens, New York. Her parents, second generation Irish-Americans, operated a small perfume business from the basement of their home. Healyattended Hunter College High School, a prestigious public school in Manhattan and graduated first in her class. At Vassar College she majored in chemistry and minored in philosophy, graduating summa cum laude in 1965. One of ten women in a class of 120 at Harvard Medical School, she received her M.D. cum laude in 1970.

Healy completed her internship and residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and spent two years at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at NIH before returning to Johns Hopkins and working her way up the academic ranks to professor of medicine. During these years, she also served as director of the coronary care unit (1977-1984) and assistant dean for post-doctoralprograms and faculty development (1979-1984). From there, Healy served the Reagan Administration as deputy director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. President George Bush nominated her for director of NIHin September 1990 and she was later confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Her tenurewith NIH ended when incoming President Clinton appointed a new director in 1993. Healy has been married to cardiologist Floyd D. Loop since 1985. With Loop she has a daughter, Marie McGrath Loop; her other daughter, Bartlett Ann Bulkley, is from her previous marriage to surgeon George Bulkley, whom she divorced in 1981.

Healy has manifested her talent and interest in shaping research policy through her many appointments to federal advisory panels, editorial boards of scientific journals, and other decision-making bodies. As the president of the American Heart Association she initiated pioneering research into women's heartdisease and demonstrated that medical progress depends on the public and medical community's perception that there is a problem to be solved. Previously,heart disease was perceived as a male affliction despite the fact that it kills more women than men. Medical practitioners for years treated women's heart disease far less aggressively than men's, and most research on coronary heart disease (like most other medical research) used male subjects either predominantly or exclusively. Healy has set out to "convince both the lay and medical sectors that coronary heart disease is also a woman's disease, not a man's disease in disguise," she wrote in New England Journal of Medicine.

At the time that Healy was appointed director of the National Institutes of Health in 1991, the agency included thirteen research institutes, sixteen thousand employees, a research budget of over nine billion dollars, and was a world leader in bio-medical research. Yet when Healy assumed control, the agencywas beset with problems, its effectiveness was in decline, and it had been without a permanent director for twenty months. Scientists were leaving in record numbers because of non-competitive salaries, politicization of scientificagendas (a prime example was the ban on fetal-tissue research because the Republican administration believed it encouraged abortion), and congressional investigations into alleged cases of scientific misconduct. The agencyhad been accused of sexism and racism in hiring and promotion. Low morale andbureaucratization added to the institute's problematic image. Healy broughtan aggressive and visible management style to the NIH. Her appointment was viewed positively by many because of her outstanding experience in dealing withscience policy issues. In addition, because she had been a member of a panelthat advised continuation of fetal-tissue research, her appointment was alsoseen as a move away from politicized science. She also held a series of "town meetings" with NIH scientists to pinpoint problems and form committees to make recommendations concerning NIH research priorities. Furthermore, she initiated a large scale study of the effects of vitamin supplementation, hormone replacement therapy, and dietary modification on women between the ages of forty-five and seventy-nine. She established a policy whereby the NIH would fund only those clinical trials that included both men and women when the condition being studied affected both genders.

Healy's policy decisions at times proved controversial. For example, Healy charged the NIH Office of Scientific Integrity (OSI), whose job it was to investigate ethical matters, with improper conduct, including leaking confidentialinformation and failing to protect the rights of scientists being investigated. In response, the head of OSI accused Healy of mishandling a scientific misconduct case at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. The allegations led to a hearing in 1991 in which Healy vigorously defended herself, as well as the changes that she had implemented at OSI.

Another controversy involved gene patenting. Despite the objections of Nobellaureate James Watson, head of NIH's human genome project, Healy approved patent applications for 347 genes. She believed that patenting genes would promote, not hinder, the ability to access information about them and alsospark much-needed international debate on the subject. A third controversy strained her relationship with the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues. Healy lobbied against provisions in a congressional bill concerning the NIH thatwould make the inclusion of women and minorities in clinical studies a legalrequirement, arguing that it represented "micro-management" of NIH. Attempting to negotiate a political compromise on another issue, she lobbied againstoverturning the Bush administration's ban on fetal tissue research, despite her previous support for such research.

Dr. Healy has received several awards, including the Charles A. Dana Foundation Award for exceptional leadership in the strategic direction of NIH; the Glamour magazine "Woman of the Year" Award; the Sara Lee Frontrunner Award for unprecedented dedication, vision, and commitment to the government; and the Golden Heart Award of the national American Heart Association. She hasbeen awarded a distinguished service award from the Greater Cleveland Hospital Association; the Excellence in Leadership Award from the National Women's Economic Alliance Foundation; the McDonough Center Distinguished Leadership Award; the Health Advocacy Award of the Friends of the National Institute of Nursing Research; and in October 1996 she was inducted into the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame. Dr. Healy was named a Women's Health Hero by American Health for Women magazine in October 1997; and in November 1997, with her husband, was named Humanitarian of the Year by the American Red Cross. In April 1998she received the Democracy in Action Award from the League of Women Voters,and in September of that year the National Museum of Women's History presented her with its Women Making History Award. Dr. Healy received the YWCA Womenof Achievement Award in April 1999. She has received numerous honorary degrees.

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