Date Posted: May 7, 2024

Dr. Vivian Pinn headshot

In celebration of 2024 National Women’s Health Week (May 12-18), we recognize and honor the contributions of Vivian W. Pinn, M.D., a remarkable woman leader who has made history in her pursuit of scientific discovery. Dr. Pinn has distinguished herself as a trailblazer in health care, research, and advancing gender and racial equality. She has made extraordinary advances in biomedical research, clinical medicine, medical education, and policy, and has diligently and tirelessly worked to pave the way for current and future generations of female scholars, scientists, and physicians.

From an early age Dr. Pinn knew she wanted to be a physician. Navigating an era characterized by substantial racial and gender discrimination, she graduated from the University of Virginia School of Medicine in 1967, as the only African American and woman in her class and the second African American woman ever to graduate from the medical school. Dr. Pinn received her post-graduate training in pathology as a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Research Fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Pinn joined the pathology department at Tufts University School of Medicine in 1970, serving as assistant dean of student affairs. In 1982, she was tapped to join Howard University College of Medicine as professor and chair of the Department of Pathology, becoming the first African American woman to chair an academic pathology department in the United States.

In 1991, then NIH Director, Dr. Bernadine Healy, selected Dr. Pinn as the first full-time director of the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH). The appointment heralded the culmination of her lifelong focus on quality health care for all. Under her leadership, ORWH led the implementation of NIH inclusion policies for women and minorities in clinical research, developed the first and several subsequent NIH strategic plans for women’s health research, and established new research initiatives and career development programs. A main objective of ORWH is to eliminate the gender leadership gap in research by increasing the number of women in leadership roles in research and academic institutions. To help fill this gap, Dr. Pinn oversaw the development of a re-entry program to help trained scientists, both men and women, who had paused their careers—because of family responsibilities, for example—to re-establish themselves in their fields. That program has now expanded to include reintegration and retraining components.

Throughout her career, Dr. Pinn ensured the prioritization of women’s health at NIH. She proclaims that her most outstanding scientific achievement has been establishing the legitimacy of women’s health research and ensuring that women’s health is defined beyond the reproductive system. Upon retiring from NIH in 2011, Dr. Pinn served as a senior scientist emerita at NIH’s Fogarty International Center and continues to advocate for women’s health and women in medicine.

Learn more about Dr. Pinn