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A Full Career at NIH

Posted on January 15, 2009

Mary C. Blehar (bio) talks about how she became a Health Science Administrator at NIH.


My last position was as a Health Scientist Administrator at the National Institutes of Health and I had been there for 29 years, which is basically most of my adult career. I did have some time in academia, but when I came to the NIH I started out working as a review administrator in clinical biology. Then I moved into the program management aspects and I managed a program in the affective anxiety disorders.

I was promoted to the Chief of the Affective and Anxiety Disorders branch, sort of in my mid-career. And also in the mid-career, I was given a wonderful opportunity, which was to be a staff scientific collaborator on a genetics of mental disorders initiative, that is using a U01 the mechanism where staff collaborated with individuals in the field. So I was the NIMH representative for a collaborative study of the genetics of bipolar affective disorder and that became one of my real research interests and because of that participation, I began to publish.

I also, when I was in the Affective Disorders Branch, became really interested in the fact that women were, in epidemiology studies, twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders, but yet in the portfolio, scientific portfolio that I managed, I found very little to inform that difference, other than just epidemiology, that it's gender.

Isn't it really interesting that this research on affective disorders doesn't really inform why there's this gender difference in prevalence? So as a result of that, I was instrumental in working on program announcements, developing program announcements to focus NIMH research more on affective disorders and gender differences.

Subsequently, after I was the Chief of the Affective Disorders Branch, I moved to a Chief of Adult Psychopathology Branch, which even more, gave me more breadth, I think, in different areas at the NIMH. From there I move to the Chief of the Women's Mental Health Program, which provided me with really a nice position to focus on things that I was interested in the women's health arena. So about this point, I began to think that, after having been at the NIMH for 25 years, it would be time to broaden myself and to consider retiring from civil service and going out and striking out again in independent consulting types of work.

So I took a rotation to the National Cancer Institute, learned about cancer prevention, control, population, behavioral sciences, focused on epidemiology, risk factors, researched there, learned a lot about training mechanisms. Then I refreshed my skills in scientific review, proceded to retire in December of 2007, was retired for about a week before people started asking me to work again for them and so now, I have really worked as a consultant.

So, I'm enjoying myself. It's been a full career and I have to say, I like having more flexibility at this point in my life.

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Excerpted from interview with researcher at the 2008 Leadership Training Institute in Bethesda, MD.


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