After campaigning for the position of vice president for a year, Jo Ivey Boufford broke through the glass ceiling that bars women from many of the highest administrative posts in medicine, to become the first woman president of New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation. She served in that role from 1985 to 1989.
Jo Ivey Boufford was born in 1945, in Durham, North Carolina, into a "Southern progressive family" who were against segregation and believed in equal opportunity. She attended high school in the North and graduated from Wellesley College in 1965. She earned her B.A. in psychology, graduating magna cum laude in 1967, and received her M.D. degree in pediatrics in 1971 from the University of Michigan Medical School.
Dr. Boufford says that graduating from medical school with distinction was "more attributable to her activism than her grades." It was the 1960s, and she was part of a curriculum reform movement, pushing for more engagement with the community and the underserved. As a student representative to the National Board of Medical Examiners, she was often the only woman at their meetings, and she became intrigued by the relevance of medical examiners and exams to social concerns.
One of the major influences in her career came during her residency in social medicine and later, around 1975 to 1982, as director of the residency program at Montefiore Hospital in New York City. This innovative program prepares future pediatricians, internists, and family physicians for inner city primary care practice, pairing residents to care for assigned groups of patients at a health center in the South Bronx.
Seeking a vice-presidency New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC), she interviewed in 1981 and then campaigned for a full year, eventually getting the job. From 1985 to 1989 she was the first woman to be HHC president. She describes it as "the best job I ever had" in terms of professional development.
Dr. Boufford moved on to the federal government, serving as principal deputy assistant secretary for health in the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from 1993 to January 1997, working for Assistant Secretary for Health Philip R. Lee and Secretary Donna Shalala. From January to May of 1997, she was acting assistant secretary for health. While at HHS, she was U.S. representative on the executive board of the World Health Organization.
Since 1997, Dr. Boufford has been dean of the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University. She describes Wagner as "really intriguing" because 40 percent of the graduates go into health policy and management, 40 percent into the government health system, and 20 percent into urban health systems. 70 percent of the students are women. Dr. Boufford is also professor of public administration at Wagner and clinical professor of pediatrics at NYU Medical School. In 1992, she became a member of the Institute of Medicine and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by State University of New York, Brooklyn. Dr. Boufford is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the New York Academy of Medicine.
At a conference on ethical principles in healthcare held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2000, she discussed the conflict between personal care of individual patients and the push for overall changes in the system. While the patient rightly expects the physician to be a patient advocate, Jo Ivey Boufford suggests that "patient-led" practice might well be replaced by "patient-driven," a patient's mantra being: nothing about me without me.