Jane Henney, MD, has always wanted to be a doctor.
Even as a young child growing up in Woodburn, Ind., she remembers “taking care” of an older woman in her neighborhood with one of her friends. While her friend was always the nurse, Henney played the doctor—a bold move considering medicine was not a profession considered “suitable” for women at that time.
“Women during my childhood became professional secretaries, nurses or teachers,” says Henney. “Medicine wasn’t an occupation thought of as something a woman should or could do, so I kept the desire to become a doctor to myself and decided to pursue a career as a teacher.”
Those leisurely days in Indiana, however, seemed to plant the seeds for what would later lead Henney right back into the medical field.
Midway through college, Henney—then an education major—found herself tutoring more and more pre-medical students in biology. And that’s when she says it clicked—medicine was her true calling.
“I knew I wanted to be a physician,” she says. “So, I sought the advice of my professors. The first one questioned why I would ever want to pursue medicine, telling me he knew two female physicians who were very unhappy. The second professor, though, turned his head to me and said, ‘Why not?’ And, that’s when I realized that you should take the advice that sounds good to you and forget the rest!”
Thanks to that piece of advice, Henney earned her medical degree—and much more.
Now a 20-year veteran of public health policy and senior vice president and provost for health affairs at UC, Henney is considered one of the nation’s most distinguished female physicians.
She is one of 330 female physicians, selected from women in medicine throughout U.S. history, to be featured in the national “Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America’s Women Physicians” exhibition, currently touring 61 libraries across the United States through November 2010.
The exhibition, sponsored by the National Library of Medicine, will make a stop at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County at 800 Vine St. Jan. 5 through Feb. 16.
“It feels very special to be included in this exhibit because I know some of the other women who are featured,” says Henney. “It’s a wonderful tribute to people who are contemporaries, but also to those who are really the pioneer women physicians in this country.”
Henney, who came to UC just three years ago, joins the ranks of featured medical legends, including Elizabeth Blackwell, MD, the first woman to earn a medical degree from an American medical school, Helen Dickens, MD, the first African-American woman admitted to the American College of Surgeons, and Gerty Cori, MD, the first woman in America to receive a Nobel Prize in science.
Henney’s own claim to fame came in 1998 when she was appointed the first female commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by then President Bill Clinton. She served in this capacity until January 2001, when she was appointed senior scholar in residence at the Association of Academic Health Centers.
Changing the Face of Medicine, cosponsored locally by UC’s Academic Information Technology & Libraries and University Libraries, shares the stories of women physicians from nearly two centuries of medicine.
Through photos, videos and narratives, the exhibition showcases the challenges that women have faced to practice medicine and the impact they have had on the profession.
Henney is one of five physicians featured with Cincinnati ties. Others include:
• Emily Blackwell, MD, a Cincinnati resident, who in 1857 with her sister, Elizabeth, and fellow physician Marie Zakrzewska, MD, founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, the first hospital run by women and the first in the United States dedicated to serving women and children.
• Marilyn Hughes Gaston, MD, a 1964 graduate of UC’s College of Medicine, who pioneered the study and treatment of sickle cell disease and in 1990 became the first African-American woman to direct a public health service bureau.
• Clarice Reid, MD, a 1959 graduate of the College of Medicine, who became the third African-American to graduate with a medical degree from UC. She also was the only African-American pediatrician in private practice in Cincinnati from 1962 to 1968.
Beatrice Lampkin, MD, an adjunct professor of molecular genetics, biochemistry and microbiology at UC, is also featured in a companion traveling gallery to the Changing the Face of Medicine exhibition called “Local Legends of Women Physicians.”
Like Changing the Face of Medicine, Local Legends highlights the contributions of women physicians in America. Each legend is nominated by a congressional representative. Lampkin, also an attending pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, was nominated by former U.S. representative Rob Portman in 2003.
Admission to the Changing the Face of Medicine exhibition is free and open during regular library hours: Sunday, from 1 to 5 p.m.; Monday through Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Thursday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call (513) 369-6900 or visit aitl.uc.edu/changingthefaceofmedicine.