Dr. Paula A. Johnson

About a year ago, I become the executive director for the (Mary Horrigan) Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology, and it was really a dream come true. The mission of the center is to improve the health of women, and to transform medicine, so that sex and gender are routinely applied, where appropriate, in medicine. And it’s a pretty lofty goal... a pretty lofty mission, but it is absolutely inspiring to me. We are working in the clinical venues here at the Brigham and Women’s, not just in traditional women’s health areas, but really in every area of medicine that touches women. Whether it be all the surgical areas, whether it be medical subspecialties, and of course obstetrics and gynecology, to really think about what is it that women need? What are the models of care that we need to implement, not just in women’s health practices, but throughout our institution, and can that then serve as a model? Especially if we can measure it for other institutions to improve the health of women. We do a lot of work in partnership with our community women, where we really know that the rates of heart disease are far higher than they should be. Black women, for example, in our neighborhood—the neighborhood of Brigham and Women’s—die at a rate of four times that of their Caucasian counterparts, at a very young age. And this is kind of in the middle of what some people would call the “medical Mecca.” So we do a lot of work with our community women, to think about risk factor reduction. But to also think about what do they need in order to stay healthy? What do they need in order to understand and cook differently? And that might include, quite frankly, better incomes. And therefore how do we connect with other groups around what is kind of the basic standard by which we should be thinking women should live, in order to maintain and achieve health? When you are starting from behind, and medicine is moving forward at a lightning pace—how do you catch up, but then continue to move forward, so that you’re not continuously behind? And I think that we’re always talking about closing the gap. But closing the gap becomes much more difficult year after year. Because we’re not closing it, and medicine is moving forward. And I think there is just an inherent challenge there that we have not figured out. And I think it becomes even more difficult when you begin to talk about a stressed economic environment, and one in which the greater public may not recognize, (or appreciate or understand) the full degree of barriers that are out there for African Americans to achieve that health state.