New Wellesley President, Dr. Paula Johnson: Advocate For Women's Health, Access To Care And Beyond

Dr. Paula Johnson is a woman of breadth: she can give a speech calling for a new movement in health care comparable to the civil rights movement — with greater access to quality health care for all — and she can also deliver compassion in the clinic with her patients. (I know, she treated my mother years ago.)

Dr. Paula Johnson (Courtesy Wellesley College)
Dr. Paula Johnson (Courtesy Wellesley College)

Johnson runs the Connors Center for Women's Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women's Hospital, where she's also the chief of women's health. She's also a professor at Harvard Medical School, and on Thursday she was named the new president of Wellesley College.

Johnson was a key driver behind a massive effort to end gender bias in medical research, starting with an exhaustive report on the problem (and a TED Talk that's been viewed more than 1 million times). When the National Institutes of Health announced it would distribute more than $10 million in grants to help combat a persistent pattern of gender bias in science and medical research, Johnson called it "a significant step" but said much more needs to be done.

She was out front as a cheerleader of the benefits for women from President Obama's Affordable Care Act; and she was passionate about the importance of the HPV vaccine for both women and men, in particular, when it comes to head and neck cancers.

I asked Johnson, who is also a cardiologist, for a list of her top 10 medical accomplishments, and here, lightly edited, is what her people sent over:

1. Founded the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), a Center that has developed a robust interdisciplinary clinical, education, and research program that focuses on how disease is expressed differently in women and men, and integrating that knowledge into the delivery of care.

2. Elected as a member of the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine (IOM)), one of the highest honors in the field of health and medicine, and served on the IOM committee that recommended the landmark coverage of preventive services for women under the Affordable Care Act.

3. Established the Gretchen S. and Edward A. Fish Center for Women’s Health. This flagship model of integrated, gender-specific care within an academic medical center continuously applies knowledge gained in leading-edge research to transform the care of women across the lifespan.

4. Founded the Center for Cardiovascular Disease in Women, one of the first programs in the country to focus on the treatment and prevention of heart disease in women.

5. Serves as the commissioner and chair of the board of the Boston Public Health Commission, one of the nation’s leading departments of public health. Under her leadership the Commission successfully introduced a ban on trans fats, as well as the passage of several regulations restricting smoking, the sale of tobacco and tobacco products often targeted to minors, and spearheaded the development of a roadmap to improve access to and the quality of primary care in Boston that included stakeholders from all sectors of healthcare.

6. Serves as a member of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Advisory Committee on Research on Women's Health.

7. Featured as a national leader in medicine by the National Library of Medicine.

8. Her 2013 TED talk, “His and Her Healthcare” has had almost 1 million viewers and has helped to raise awareness of the importance of sex differences to understanding women’s health.

9. Johnson conceptualized and convened “Charting the Course: A National Policy Summit on the Future of Women’s Health,” and was the lead author on a report and action plan, “Sex-Specific Research: Why Women’s Health Can’t Wait,” released in conjunction with the Summit. The summit and report provided evidence of the vast inequities that continue to exist in medical research, and outlined clear recommendations to address inequity in medical research. Over the past year, the summit and report have been a catalyst for historic progress not seen since the passage of the landmark NIH Revitalization Act two decades ago calling for equal representation for women in minorities in clinical trials.

10. She is the first African-American physician from BWH to be named a Harvard Medical School Professor in the hospital’s 100-year history. She also served as BWH’s first African American chief medical resident early in her career.


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Rachel Zimmerman Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 



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