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Dr. Jean R. Anderson

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1953

Medical School

Vanderbilt University School of Medicine



Career Path

Obstetrics and gynecology
Dr. Jean R. Anderson


Dr. Jean Anderson was appointed director of the Johns Hopkins HIV Women's Health Program when it was first founded in 1987.


I never seriously thought of becoming anything else. I was raised to have a reverence for service and for learning and I grew up in the era of Marcus Welby M.D., and Ben Casey. Medicine seemed to be the most noble of callings and it also seemed exciting and mysterious and adventurous. Becoming a doctor was not a particularly common dream for young girls then and that appealed to me as well, because I wanted to be different; I experienced a certain delight in confounding people's preconceptions and expectations. Finally, I became a doctor because my parents raised me to believe that I could be anything I wanted to be.


Dr. Jean R. Anderson is the founder and was the first director of the Johns Hopkins HIV Women's Health Program, one of the first initiatives in the country to use peer counselors to support patients.

Jean Anderson realized her call to medicine at an early age. Her maternal grandmother helped her bandage injured animals and told her fascinating stories of "lock-jaw" and other illnesses. With her parents' encouragement, Anderson applied to Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 1975. When she was accepted later that year, only one of every five students in her class was a woman.

"My initial plan was to become a psychiatrist. But this permanently changed after my first experience in surgery and the magic of the operating theater. I settled on obstetrics and gynecology as a good blend of surgery and medicine, prevention and cure, primary and specialty care." Dr. Anderson completed her obstetrics and gynecology internship and residency at Vanderbilt in 1983 and remained on the faculty for the next three years as an attending physician at the Metropolitan Nashville General Hospital. Except for a college summer at Birbeck College in England, she had never lived outside Nashville before moving to Baltimore.

In July, 1987 Dr. Anderson began work at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, as an assistant professor of gynecology and obstetrics. Just three months later she was asked if she might be interested in working in the hospital's new clinic for women with HIV. She had no idea that this would become her life's work. "When I started, I had never cared for or even seen a patient with HIV, but I was hardly alone. Everything about HIV and AIDS was new and different, both fascinating and heart wrenching." When Dr. Anderson began her work with HIV infected women, there were so few patients that all could be seen in just one half-day clinic session each week. Now, more than a third of patients with HIV at Hopkins are women, and Dr. Anderson's program serves as a vital resource for this group.

Dr. Anderson helped establish the Johns Hopkins HIV Women's Health Program soon after arriving there, and she continues to serve as its director. Providing comprehensive care to women with HIV, Dr. Anderson's program was among the first to use peer counselors to support patients and help women manage their treatment regimen. This is especially useful now that pregnant women can prevent the transmission of the virus during pregnancy and labor with the appropriate medical care, and that all patients can stay healthy through the use of combination drug therapies.

Dr. Anderson has developed a national and international reputation as a leader in the specialty. She was an author and editor of The Manual for the Clinical Care of Women with HIV, and has written over seventy-five journal articles and book chapters on the subject. She also gives presentations on her research around the world, and is a frequent speaker at world AIDS conferences every year, as well as other symposiums devoted to women's health. Since 1998 she has also served as a consultant to the Brazilian ministry of health.

Dr. Anderson still finds her greatest satisfaction in day-to-day interaction with patients and medical students, and is especially proud of the four teaching awards she has received since joining the faculty at Hopkins. She is a fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and a member of the American Academy of HIV Medicine.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

My biggest obstacle was not in being a woman. It was probably my own expectations of myself. It was difficult to go from a small college where I was the proverbial big fish to medical school where I was far from being the best or the brightest.

How do I make a difference?

I take care of women who are mostly poor and with HIV infection. I think I make a difference by helping my patients feel cared about and not just cared for, by viewing suffering as more than physical, and by role-modeling these attitudes and behaviors for medical students and residents.

Who was my mentor?

Dr. Lonnie Burnett, who was my chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Vanderbilt University.

How has my career evolved over time?

When I completed my residency in obstetrics and gynecology, I decided I wanted to stay in academic medicine, although I had no clear idea of what that meant. I remained relatively "undifferentiated" until I took care of my first patients with HIV infection and then I knew I had found my calling. I began with and have continued to be deeply involved with direct patient care, but have evolved over the years into roles in research, advocacy and education. With a new global commitment to fighting HIV and righting some of the inequities that exist in access to life-sustaining therapy, my role has recently evolved into a more international focus to assist in training, program development and implementation in the area of HIV/AIDS.