Vivian W. Pinn, the director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), developed an interest in health issues during her childhood. She helped to care for both her grandmother, who had diabetes, and her grandfather, who had cancer. Driven by her desire to enter the medical field, Dr. Pinn was the valedictorian of her class at Dunbar High School in Lynchburg and received a scholarship to attend Wellesley. Her studies were interrupted when she left Wellesley to care for her ailing mother, who was diagnosed with bone cancer and died at the age of 46. Upon her return to Wellesley, Dr. Pinn took a summer job as a research assistant at Massachusetts General Hospital. There, she became interested in immunopathology, which shaped the direction of her career.
After graduating from Wellesley in 1962, Dr. Pinn attended the University of Virginia School of Medicine, where she was the only female and only African-American in the graduating class of 1967. She returned to MGH to study kidney disease and transplants under Dr. Martin Flax. She joined the faculty of Tufts University School of Medicine in 1970 and served as a faculty advisor to minority medical students. She also worked as a pathologist at the Tufts-New England Medical Center until 1982.
In 1982, Dr. Pinn was invited to chair the pathology department at Howard University. There, she was able to continue her work in encouraging young African-American students to pursue careers in medicine.
The NIH sought Dr. Pinn to become the first director of the new Office of Research on Women’s Health in 1991. This office researched a variety of health issues that affected women and studied diseases, diagnoses, and treatments that differed between men and women. The position allowed Dr. Pinn to focus specifically on encouraging women in scientific fields and careers.
Dr. Pinn is a member of the National Medical Association, of which she was president from 1989 to 1990, and a member of the American Medical Association. She won the Howard University Women in Medicine Woman of the Year Award in 1999, and she has received a Distinguished Alumna Award from the University of Virginia.
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