Pinn Expands the Scope of NIH

By Roach, Ronald | Black Issues in Higher Education, November 28, 1996 | Go to article overview

Pinn Expands the Scope of NIH


Roach, Ronald, Black Issues in Higher Education


When Dr. Bernadine Healy, the renowned

A cardiologist who was the first woman

to head the National Institutes of Health

(NIH), undertook a search in 1991 to hire the

first permanent director of NIH's Office of

Research on Women's Health (ORWH), she did

not have to look far to fill the position.

Healy turned to Dr. Vivian W. Pinn, a

physician who was then chair of the pathology

department at the Howard University School of

Medicine in Washington, D.C. The choice by

Healy, hailed by those active in the women's health

movement, brought Pinn to the forefront of the

nation's medical research establishment.

Though she had some reservations about

working in government, Pinn, who considers

herself an activist by temperament, accepted the

appointment.

"I did not go looking for this job," said Pinn.

After making the appointment, Healy told

reporters that it was Pinn who, as a young medical

resident at Massachusetts General Hospital in

Boston, once mentored her in 1969 when she was a

medical student.

The office, launched in September 1990, had

been created in response to the growing outcry by

women health advocates and members of Congress

that federally supported health research failed to

include women in research studies. It was widely

acknowledged by the General Accounting Office

and the research community that researchers failed

to include women in studies because scientists had

long considered male biology the standard.

At the NIH, a federal agency operating under

the U.S. Department of Health and

Human Services and

headquartered in

Bethesda, Maryland,

medical researchers

and administrators

are charged with

suppor tiny scientific

research to extend

healthy life, and

to reduce illness

and disability for

all Americans.

NIH came under heavy criticism because of its

research methodology. In the late 1980s, for

example, it did a huge study of 22,000

physicians -- none of whom were women -- which

established the usefulness of aspirin in preventing

heart attack. As a result of the outcry, Healy

established the Office of Research on Women's

Health (ORWH) to ensure that federal medical

research included women and provided

opportunities for women in the medical research

field.

"Some people really didn't believe that it was a

legitimate issue," said Dr. Susan Wood, assistant

director of Policy in the U.S. Public Health

Service's Office of Women's Health.

As its incoming director in November 1991,

Pinn stepped into a high visibility job whose

supporters had great expectations for her. At the

time of the ORWH formation, the subject of

women's health exploded into the national

consciousness because the media began publicizing

the disparities between men's and women's health

status resulting from the traditional research

methodology.

It fell to Pinn to organize ant lead the office

to focus on three objectives: strengthen research

related to diseases and conditions that affect

women; ensure that women are appropriately

represented in biomedical and behavioral

research studies supported by NIH; and develop

opportunities and support for recruitment,

retention, re-entry and advancement of

women in biomedical careers.

After five years in tile job, Pinn says she

is pleased by the progress made by the

ORWH. She gets praise for her leadership

from officials in the medical research and

women's health community. …

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