Dr. Joan Reede works to recruit and prepare minority students for jobs in the biomedical professions, and to promote better health care policies for the benefit of minority populations. In 2001, she became Harvard Medical School's first dean for diversity and community partnership. She is the first African American woman to hold that rank at HMS and one of the few African American women to hold a deanship at a medical school in the United States.
Joan Reede was born in 1953 and grew up in the Boston area. She traces her roots to a great-great-grandmother, Alie Taswell, who was born into slavery in Georgia in the 1860s. Taswell and her descendents strove to improve opportunities for those who followed, and Reede's parents set high standards and encouraged her to pursue any career she wanted. A family friend, Amanda Cook, a graduate of Radcliffe College, encouraged her to work with others to achieve success.
By the time Joan reached seventh grade, she knew she was interested in becoming a doctor: Watching the television program Marcus Welby, M.D., she said she noticed that "nurses got orders and doctors gave them."
When she was ready to apply for college admission, however, a school counselor discouraged her from applying to Brown University. It was the first time she had been told she couldn't do something she wanted to do. She applied anyway and was accepted. After earning a bachelor of science from Brown in 1977, Reede trained at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, and earned her M.D. in 1980.
She completed an internship and residency in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a fellowship in child psychiatry at Boston's Children's Hospital, then got married and had a daughter, Loretta Jackson. After her divorce in the late 1980s, she went on to earn two more degrees, an M.P.H. in 1990 and an M.S. in 1992 from Harvard School of Public Health, all while raising Loretta as a single parent.
At Harvard, Dr. Reede was struck by the absence of minorities among the School of Public Health faculty. In 1990, after a year as a fellow at Harvard Medical School, Reede and several colleagues founded the Biomedical Science Careers Program (BSCP), to match minority students from high school through post-graduate levels with mentors in their fields of interest. BSCP also offers information on funding and training opportunities, and sponsors a biennial conference bringing together students and advisors for a day of discussion, seminars, and networking.
Dr. Reede is also a founder and director of the Commonwealth Fund/Harvard University Fellowship in Minority Health Policy, which offers physicians with an interest in minority and disadvantaged populations a year of professional training for leadership positions in health care policy and practice. She believes that "Health is linked to a large extent to social issues of poverty, employment, and education. So encouraging children to stay in school, recognize the opportunity education provides, and see hope for a promising future helps children, families, and community...I felt like it was the right thing to do, but not what my training as a pediatrician necessarily prepared me to do. Access to health care was my original interest, and I hope that these programs will help to train individuals who will be leaders, educators, and researchers in the field, and who will be health care providers prepared to ensure improved access for disadvantaged people."
Like her ancestors, who prepared the way for her, Dr. Joan Reede is motivated to expand opportunities for future generations, and is inspired by her role as a parent. Her daughter inspires her. "From the very beginning, my daughter, Loretta, has made a significant impact on my personal and career development...She continues to remind me of what is really important in life. She brings into proper perspective how I want to be viewed by her and how I would like her life to be."