JudyAnn Bigby, M.D., served as director of the Harvard Medical School Center of Excellence in Women’s Health. She is devoted to the health care needs of underserved populations, focusing especially on women’s health. She is also nationally recognized for her pioneering work educating physicians on the provision of care to people with histories of substance abuse.
JudyAnn Bigby graduated from Wellesley College and earned her doctor of medicine degree at Harvard Medical School in 1978. Born in Jamaica, New York, Bigby, and her siblings were the first in their family to attend college, and she was the first to become a doctor. After medical school, Bigby completed a primary care internal medicine residency at the University of Washington Affiliated Hospitals in Seattle and was a Henry J. Kaiser Fellow in general internal medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She joined the faculty of the department of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard in 1984 and was active in teaching, patient care, research, and administration. She was also medical director of Community Health Programs at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Bigby became interested in helping the underserved in her clinical practice. Seeing that many of her patients’ problems could not be solved in her office, she set out to encourage fellow physicians to take into account their patients’ personal background (gender, race, ethnicity, and other factors), and their situation in the wider community. As a medical educator, she strives to create innovative teaching models, exploring substance abuse, social factors in health and well-being, the relationship of race and ethnicity to health and illness, and the role of communities in maintaining the health of population groups.
Dr. Bigby works to convince medical professionals to adopt her concerns. Medical students and residents often see alcoholics and drug addicts as stereotypical “skid row,” manipulative patients. She tries to develop teaching strategies that challenge this view, as well as providing the medical training. She works with public health officials, community health centers, and other community-based organizations in the Boston area to explore models of care for underserved women, particularly those with breast and cervical cancer, and seeking ways to decrease racial disparities in health care.
Dr. Bigby has experienced many challenges as a woman physician, challenges that have varied at different stages of her career. Balancing family and a medical career is one such challenge. Dr. Bigby had the first of her two children during medical school, at a time when few women were even enrolled in medical school. She also discovered that, in the medical profession, there is an expectation that personal problems — major illness, family issues, or other events — should not interfere with a physician’s work. Her physician husband’s commitment to sharing the responsibility for raising their children has helped her to balance work and family life.
Dr. Bigby has volunteered her time on Boston’s Public Health Commission, the Women’s Education and Industrial Union, the Medical Foundation, and the Center for Community Health, Education, Research, and Service, among other programs. She is a member of the Institute of Medicine’s Committee Assuring the Health of the Public in the 21st Century and the Minority Women’s Health Panel of Experts for the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office on Women’s Health. She served on the Council of Graduate Medical Education from 1994 to 1999.