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Dr. Margaret Caroline Heagarty

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1934

Medical School

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine


New York

Career Path

Pediatric medicine
Dr. Margaret Caroline Heagarty


Margaret Heagarty, M.D., established a pediatric AIDS unit at Harlem Hospital Center.


My father was a physician and my role model.


For twenty-two years Margaret Heagerty, M.D., served as director of pediatrics at Harlem Hospital Center, where she dramatically improved the survival and quality of life of the children of Harlem.

Margaret Heagarty was born in Charleston, West Virginia, in 1934. Her father was a physician who treated patients in the state's coalfields and his dedication inspired her to follow in his footsteps. After earning a bachelor of arts degree, summa cum laude, from Seton Hill College in Pennsylvania, she attended West Virginia University's two-year School of Medicine, as one of only two women in the class. She then went on to earn her medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1961 and completed a pediatric residency at Temple University in 1964. Before becoming director of pediatrics at Columbia University's Harlem Hospital Center in 1978, she served as director of Pediatric Ambulatory Care Services at Cornell-New York Hospital.

Dr. Heagarty brought innovations in the care of newborn babies to Harlem Children's Hospital, where the rate for neonatal mortality had been more than three times the national average. Her initiatives included programs dealing with the issues of teenage pregnancy, a new a pediatric AIDS unit, a group home for HIV-infected children, community satellite clinics, and community projects to prevent playground injuries. On a national scale, she made an issue of the plight of cocaine-exposed "boarder babies," babies abandoned at birth by parents with a history of substance abuse.

Dr. Heagarty used her impressive fund-raising skills to convert a former convent into a group home for HIV-infected children, the Incarnation Children's Center. A month before it was due to open in 1989, she gave a private tour of the pediatric unit of Harlem Children's Hospital to Diana, Princess of Wales, and did so again in 1995. The publicity the tour received helped call attention to the plight of "AIDS babies" worldwide. After photographs of Diana were shown in the media, families volunteering to offer them foster homes went from zero to a waiting list in New York City. One hundred and sixty babies were placed in the first two years.

Dr. Heagarty has been involved in many projects and committees, and has earned a reputation as a true leader. In her retirement, Heagarty is a professor emerita of pediatrics at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Dr. Heagarty has been elected to the Institute of Medicine and is a former member of its council. She is also a member of the New York Academy of Medicine, where she has served on the Board of Trustees. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a member of the Society for Pediatric Research, and past president of the Ambulatory Pediatric Association. Among numerous honors, Dr. Margaret Heagarty received the Martha May Eliot Award in 1994 from the American Public Health Association, and in 1995 she was granted an honorary doctor of medical science degree from Yale University.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

My greatest obstacle was financing my medical school education.

Who was my mentor?

My mentors were my father, John P. Heagarty, M.D., and Waldo G. Nelson, M.D.

How has my career evolved over time?

I began as health services investigator of urban poor children and became a doctor of pediatrics at Harlem Hospital. I participated in the process of developing health policy for urban poor children and those with HIV disease.