Dr. Bernadine Healy is a leading cardiologist and health administrator in the country, and the first woman to head the National Institutes of Health. Her leadership, innovative policy, and determination have made her very successful in addressing medical issues and policy concerning women.
She spent the early part of her career at Johns Hopkins University where she rose to full professor on the medical school faculty while also undertaking significant administrative responsibilities. She served as deputy science advisor to President Ronald Reagan. In 1985 she was appointed Head of the Research Institute of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation where she remained until her appointment as director of the NIH in 1991. Healy was also president of the American Heart Association from 1988 to 1989 and has served on numerous national advisory committees.
Her awards include two American Heart Association special awards for service and the 1992 Dana Foundation's Distinguished Achievement Award for her work on promoting research on the health problems of women.
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 heart disease 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.
At the time that Healy was appointed director of the NIH, 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 agency was beset with problems, its effectiveness was in decline, and it had been without a permanent director for twenty months. Healy brought an aggressive and visible management style to the NIH. Her 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 confidential information 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 Nobel Laureate 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 also spark 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 that would make the inclusion of women and minorities in clinical studies a legal requirement, arguing that it represented "micro-management" of NIH. Attempting to negotiate a political compromise on another issue, she lobbied against overturning the Bush Administration's ban on fetal tissue research, despite her previous support for such research.
Healy served as president and chief executive officer of the American Red Cross from 1999 to 2001.