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Paying Homage to a Great Female Leader Who, By the Way, Was a Physician

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Dr. Bernadine Healy was determined, independent and driven to make a difference.  She could have had a nice cardiology practice but instead she chose to take on the establishment in at least two of her most important roles. The first was  as the first woman to lead the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from 1991-93,  and second, as the first physician to lead the America Red Cross.  

WLE is saddened by the loss of this great woman, who passed away August 6th, at the young age of 67 from brain cancer. WLE recognized Bernadine in 2004 with the   Women's Leadership Exhange Compass Award presented to women who have shifted the paradigm of how women leaders are perceived in the world.  Not only did she shift that paradigm, but she changed the world of women's health in a male domain of medicine and government.  As director of NIH, she advocated studies that challenged assumptions about women's health.  The result was research that transformed the common wisdom that heart attacks affected mostly men to an understanding that heart disease was the number one killer of women.  At the NIH, she mandated that women be included in clinical trials at a time when the medical establishment was primarily focused on men's health. She began studies that investigated the causes, treatment and prevention of cardiovascular diseases, cancer and osteoporosis in women, which today continues to yield results and impacts women's health.  Those studies discovered that postmenopausal women taking estrogen-progestin hormone replacement therapy over time, were at great risk of breast cancer, stroke and heart attacks.  This is only one area where her leadership lead to information which would prolong the lives of women.  For this alone, we owe her so much.  

Women have come a long way, and it's women like Bernadine Healy, who are willing to speak out, go against the establishment and take action on their beliefs courageously. At the Red Cross Dr. Healy took on the bureaucracy which resulted in great controversy. And there lies the risk in being fearless.  Believe it or not, women are beginning to be recognized for their fearlessness. Many of these women leaders are being featured on the front pages of newspapers like the The New York Times - women like Sheila Blair, departed chairwoman of the FDIC and director Elizabeth Warren, former director of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, both who have been criticized for being outspoken and independent.   But this week, let us pay homage to Dr. Bernadine Healy, and acknowledge the thousands of  lives that have been lengthened by her forthrightness.  I only wish, there had been someone, whose leadership in the brain cancer field would have been able to save her life........Leslie Grossman, Cofounder, Women's Leadership Exchange, www.womensleadershipexchange.com


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