Dr. Vivian W. Pinn

Having the opportunity to come be the first permanent Director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) represented not only a career change for me, but also a very, very exciting opportunity that I have tried to make the best of in every way that I could. We didn’t really have a good focus on what is now called Women’s Health up until about the time this office was established. The office at NIH is really the first office established within the Federal Government to focus on women’s health issues. It was established to make sure that women are included in clinical studies funded by the NIH—in other words, included in research—and to make sure that research is addressing the health of women in studies.

I always wanted to be a physician and I always thought that was what I wanted to do. But my sophomore year in college, my mother developed a bad pain in her back. And the doctors thought it was arthritis. And I can remember going with her to the doctor and having him say, “Francina, if you just wore those oxfords I gave you and stood up straight and did those exercises, you wouldn’t have that pain.” But it turned out what he had missed, was that she had a bone tumor. I interrupted my career and stayed home with my mother and took care of her 24 hours a day until she died, which was in February of 1961. Then I went back to school with even more resolve that I wanted to be a physician, and I wanted to be the kind of physician who paid attention to my patients, and didn’t dismiss my patient’s complaints—something that has really carried through and I think has been central to my way of thinking and approaching women’s health in this portion of my career.