Dr. Bernadine P. Healy: A Tribute to a Caring Physician and Women's Health Advocate

Dr. Bernadine P. Healy passed away August 6, 2011, a victim of brain cancer. I do not believe I can properly pay tribute to this lady with my feeble words, but I feel I must at least make the attempt. A friend of mine who is also a fellow writer, and indeed a much better writer than I if the truth were to be told, brought Dr. Healy to my attention. My friend is a ghost writer and he was assigned writing a short news piece relating to Dr. Healy's death. "Q," my friend said, "there is no way to do this woman justice in 250 words."

He went on to tell me about Dr. Healy's many achievements and accomplishments, especially in regards to women's health issues. We talked about how odd it is that she did not get a write up on any of the major news site that both he and I frequent or at least nothing that was easy to find. Neither CNN nor FoxNews seemed to have the story. We did discover an Associated Press release covering her passing, but it was only 125 words -- just half of what my friend had been allowed!

I asked my friend, who also writes on HubPages, if he were going to put her story on here, but he stated unfortunately his work is keeping him from hubbing as much he would like. So I told him that I would do this story to recognize the good doctor's contribution to our world and how she left it a better place than when she arrived. I have no limitation on my words, however, I am still uncertain that I will be able to do Dr. Healy justice. All I can do is try.

Bernadine Patricia Healy was born on August 4, 1944, the second of four daughters of Michael and Violet Healy who ran a perfume business from their home. From a young age, she and her siblings were taught the value of education, encouraged by parents who had been unable to finish their own educations. The young Bernadine, who would later cite her father as her inspiration, excelled in all her studies. Raised in Long Island City in the borough of Queens, New York, she was the top student at Hunter College High School, a school for the intellectually gifted.

The young student was then given a full scholarship to Vassar College where she graduated summa cum laude, majoring in chemistry and minoring in philosophy. She continued her education on a full scholarship to Harvard Medical School where she graduated cum laude in 1970 and then went on to complete her internship and residency in cardiology at John Hopkins School of Medicine and Hospital.

The Career Begins: The People's Physician

With husband, Dr. Floyd D. Loop.
With husband, Dr. Floyd D. Loop.

After completing her post-doctoral training, Dr. Healy spent two year with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health. She then accepted an offer to return to John Hopkins and join the cardiology staff where she would eventually head the coronary care unit at the hospital and become a full professor and assistant dean at the school. During her tenure at John Hopkins she would begin to focus on women's health issues, especially concerning heart disease and its affect on women at a time when it was considered a man's disease.

While working at John Hopkins, Dr. Healy would begin what would become a lifetime of going beyond the call of duty by serving with organizations such as the American Federation of Clinical Research and the American College of Cardiology. She would also begin her involvement with the American Heart Association for which she would later serve as president. Her participation in these organizations were typical of a woman dedicated to improving the lives of her fellow men and women.

Further Accomplishments: A Life of Giving

Bernadine Healy would serve in many capacities over the years. I am certain I will be unable to list everything, but the following include many of her most impressive achievements.

Presidential Advisor
After his election, President Ronald Reagan asked Dr. Healy to accept an appointment as Deputy Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and she accepted. She would go on to hold many positions in his administration and serve on several advisory groups for him. She would later serve on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology during both Bush administrations.

National Institutes of Health
President George H.W. Bush named Dr. Healy director of the National Institutes of Health in 1991. She returned to the Institutes as director of the organization and she made great strides in women's health policy while at the helm. Among her accomplishments were strengthening policies that require women and men to both be included in clinical studies of issues that affect both genders and making the Human Genome Project a priority along with assembling a world-renowned team of researchers for the project. She also launched the Women's Health Initiative, a $625 million research project involving 150,000 women.

Ohio State University
While serving as a professor and Dean of College Medicine at Ohio State University during the second half of the 1990s, Dr. Healy managed to earn the school recognition as a National Center of Excellence in Women's Health. She also helped develop the school's Heart and Lung Institute and facilitated a pioneering robotic heart surgery program.

American Red Cross
Dr. Healy became President and CEO of the American Red Cross in late 1999 and was with them until December 31, 2001. Her main contributions in this position centered around improving the management of the nation's blood supply. She also led the organization through the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, though she did receive some criticism over the way relief funds for the disaster were distributed. Disagreements with high-ranking officials in the organization led to her departure from the Red Cross.

U.S.News & World Report
Serving as health editor for U.S.News & World Report, Dr. Healy became known as an intelligent, insightful writer who was always willing to work to improve as a journalist yet always placed her concern for people first and foremost. You can read Heart to Heart, her blog for the magazine, here.

Living Time: Not a Day Wasted

Living Time is the name of a book that Dr. Healy authored in addition to well over 200 scientific papers plus her work for U.S. News & World Report. She also served in many volunteer positions which she always accepted with vigor. She served on multitudes of advisory boards and committees for everyone from the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine to the Department of Energy and NASA.

She was an outspoken critic of smoking and worked to make Americans more aware of the harmful effects of the habit on cardiovascular health. She opposed legalizing marijuana as a recreational drug but supported research into its health benefits as a possible medication. As mentioned previously, she was a strong, resourceful advocate of women's health issues. She was bright, intelligent, articulate and not afraid to speak her mind and take a stand on an issue, even those issues that might be controversial.

She was dedicated to public service, even running for a United States Senate seat in her home state of Ohio. She ran as a Republican but did not make it through the primary to win the nomination. On a side note, it is sad to think politics may have limited her contributions to our society yet it is clear that she served three Republican presidents yet never got the call from a Democrat.

Bernadine Healy was also a cancer survivor. Make no mistake about that. Though the disease may have finally taken her from this world, she lived with it for more than a decade before succumbing to it and perhaps lived more intently because of it. In Living Time she discussed how the cancer made her more aware and more grateful for everyday she was given.

Above all, through all of her achievements and accomplishments, Dr. Healy was first and foremost a physician, continuing to see patients throughout much of her career. We all, and especially women, owe her a debt of gratitude for advancements in the research and treatment of heart disease. She was definitely a doctor, friend, author, administrator, colleague, wife and mother who will be deeply missed.

Notabale Firsts: Making History

Dr. Bernadine Healy was a trailblazer in many ways including these accomplishments:

  • First woman to join John Hopkins' cardiology staff in a full-time position.
  • First woman to become an assistant dean for postdoctoral programs and faculty development at John Hopkins Hospital.
  • First woman to head the National Institutes of Health.
  • First physician to head the American Red Cross.

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Roy Perrin profile image

Roy Perrin 5 years ago from Jacksonville, NC

You obviously appreciate this great woman's contributions to the world. Great detail.

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