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Vol. LIX, No. 8
April 20, 2007

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Diverse Panel Celebrates Women's Achievement at NIH

India Robinson Dr. Migdalia Rivera-Goba Camille Hoover Colleen Barros
Participants in the Women’s History Month observance included (above, from l) India Robinson, Dr. Migdalia Rivera-Goba, Camille Hoover, Colleen Barros.

It seemed only fitting that Dr. Ruth Kirsch-stein, senior advisor to the NIH director and acting director of NCCAM, recently introduced a panel of successful NIH women to commemorate Women's History Month. This year's theme was "Generations of Women Moving History Forward," and as the first woman to serve as director of an NIH institute-the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, from 1974 to 1993-Kirschstein has certainly influenced generations of women here.

"Talk about women moving history forward," said Dr. Yvonne Maddox, deputy director of NICHD and moderator of the discussion. "There's a woman who has moved history forward."

Dr. Yvonne Maddox
Dr. Ruth Kirschstein
Dr. Yvonne Maddox and (bottom) Dr. Ruth Kirschstein.

Kirschstein said she was happy to celebrate women, and "pleased that we have in our moderator and panelists individuals who exemplify two important aspects of NIH: the science side, and the administrative side, without which science could not be done."

Simply reading the bios of the women on the panel is a lesson in female achievement at NIH, Maddox said:

. Camille Hoover, NCCAM's first executive officer, partnered with NCCAM's first director to develop the organization and create the center's infrastructure.

. Dr. Ann Hsing, senior investigator at the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, NCI, has won awards for her research in prostate and biliary tract cancers, for promoting research quality and for serving as an outstanding mentor.

. Dr. Migdalia Rivera-Goba, senior nurse specialist for health disparities and community outreach for the Clinical Center's Office of Research, Outcomes and Practice Development, was the first postdoctoral fellow of the NIH and the National Association of Hispanic Nurses and has contributed much to the Hispanic community.

. India Robinson, who received her bachelor's degree in 2002, began her career at NASA while still in high school and has worked her way up to serving as administrative officer at the Center for Scientific Review.

Maddox herself, in addition to serving in her current position at NICHD since 1995, was also acting deputy director of NIH from January 2000 to June 2002.

She asked each of the panelists what they consider to be their biggest accomplishments. Hoover discussed the "rare opportunity" she had to build a new research enterprise for the study of complementary and alternative medicine amid "widespread skepticism and under the watchful eye of Congress."

Hsing was able to bring scientific collaboration to both China and Africa to enhance opportunities for scientific discovery and help train the next generation of researchers in these countries. Rivera-Goba said she's been able to break down barriers for minorities, including being the first Hispanic to graduate from both her undergraduate and graduate schools. And because Robinson began her career so young, she was recognized for 10 years of federal service at the age of 27.

In a discussion of the role family and community play in the women's careers, Robinson said she learned from her mother and grandmother the principle that "you can do anything you set your mind to."

"For women, it's especially important to have family and community support," said Hsing, adding she has two very supportive children who, if she's debating whether to attend a scientific conference far away, ask if it's important to her. If she says yes, they urge her to go.

As for how these women found their "callings," Rivera-Goba knew she wanted to take care of others since childhood, when her sister was often in the hospital. Any job she chose "had to involve people, and it had to make a difference in people's lives."

Hoover started her NIH career as a social worker in the CC and never aspired to be an executive officer, she said. But she always knew that whatever career she chose, she wanted to be passionate about its mission, to be able to build partnerships and to make a difference. Her executive officer position allows her to do all three.

Dr. Ann Hsing
Dr. Ann Hsing of NCI is Chinese and didn't speak English well when she first came to the U.S. She found substantial cultural differences between the two countries.

Despite their achievements, however, all panelists had hurdles along the way. Rivera-Goba was a teen mother, but never saw it as a stumbling block. "The more challenges that were put in my way, the more I felt determined," she explained. And though it wasn't always easy, she kept in mind that what she was doing could help other people face similar adversity.

Hsing, who is Chinese, didn't speak English well when she first came to the U.S. and found substantial cultural differences between the two countries. Science itself was also a challenge, but if you identify what your problems are and determine ways of conquering them, she said, "in the end it works out."

"You have to know what obstacles lie ahead of you and prepare to overcome them," agreed Robinson, noting she's faced the challenges of being young, female and a minority. "People may judge you before they know who you are.but if you go in with confidence and have a good work ethic, people will see you for the person that you are."

When an audience member asked them for advice on becoming an NIH leader, the panelists were effusive. "Don't limit yourself," said Robinson. "Look at where you want to go and ask yourself, 'What can I do to learn more?'"

"Become a sponge" and soak up information, added Rivera-Goba. "Surround yourself with people who have gone in the direction you're going."

Finally, remember that "personal accomplishment doesn't know race or gender," said Colleen Barros, NIH deputy director for management, at the event's conclusion. She added that NIH employs 10,600 women-or 58 percent of employees-so mentors are clearly out there. "Go find one," she said. "Or serve as one to someone who needs it." NIH Record Icon

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