Dr. Bernadine Healy was a cardiologist with a diverse career spanning the government, nonprofit organizations, and academia. Dr. Healy was the first female Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), serving from April 1991 to June 1993. She also served as Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy appointed by Ronald Reagan. She was President of both the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross. Dr. Healy was a Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Chair of the Research Institute at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, and Professor of Medicine at Ohio State University.
Bernadine Healy was born and raised in Long Island, NY, one of four girls. Her parents did not graduate from high school, but emphasized the importance of education to their daughters. Heeding their advice and wanting to help people, Healy pursued a career in medicine. In 1965, she graduated summa cum laude from Vassar College after studying chemistry and philosphy. Healy attended Harvard Medical School as one of 10 women in a class of 120, earning her MD cum laude in 1970. She completed her residency in internal medicine and cardiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The first woman to join full-time faculty in cardiology at Hopkins, Dr. Healy's research focused on the pathology of heart disease. She found that heart attacks manifest differently in women than men, at a time when the manifestation of disease in men was considered the standard. Pursuing a similar line as President of the American Heart Association, Dr. Healy advocated for research on heart disease in women. As Director of the NIH, she established the Women's Health Initiative, a 15-year, $625 million coordinated study of diseases and well-being of women over 50. Dubbed the "moon walk for women," it produced new insights into the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and osteoporosis in women. She also established the clinical trial standard that research on conditions affecting both sexes must include both men and women to receive NIH funding.
Dr. Healy is a self-identified feminist and a champion for women's health. Known for voicing strong opinions, Dr. Healy’s direct style often made her the target of harsh criticism from coworkers and the media, although she remained steadfast in her public position. In 1982, after the all-male Hopkins medical fraternity, Pithotomy roaster her in a raunchy skit, she charged the Dean with fostering and encouraging sexual harassment. She shed light on academia's "boys' club" culture that contributed to the fading membership and dissolution of the by then 95-year exclusive club 10 years later.
Dr. Healy was an outspoken critic of smoking and its effects on the cardiovascular system. She wrote “On Health” for U.S. News and World Report on diverse medical topics. Reflecting on her career, Dr. Healy commented, "Professionally I am proud that I never compromised my core beliefs, never wobbled on what I believed to be the right path, and had the strength to endure both. My contributions on women's health and well-being... have brought me deep satisfaction—and were not always easy, especially back in the 1970s when such interests were seen as too expansive."