Dr. Janine Austin Clayton is the Associate Director for Research on Women’s Health and Director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health. She was awarded her undergraduate degree with honors from Johns Hopkins University and her medical degree from Howard University College of Medicine. Afterwards, Janine completed a residency in ophthalmology at the Medical College of Virginia and fellowships at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital as well as the National Eye Institute (NEI). Janine is a board-certified ophthalmologist. She served as a Clinical Investigator at NEI for a number of years, and prior to her current appointments, she was the Deputy Clinical Director of NEI. Janine has received numerous awards and honors for her exceptional work, including the Senior Achievement Award from the Board of Trustees of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, selection as a Silver Fellow by the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, the European Uveitis Patient Interest Association Clinical Uveitis Research Award, the American Medical Women’s Association Lila A. Wallis Women’s Health Award, the Wenger Award for Excellence in Public Service, and the Bernadine Healy Award for Visionary Leadership in Women’s Health. In addition, Janine was selected as an honoree for the Woman’s Day Red Dress Awards and the American Medical Association’s Dr. Nathan Davis Awards for Outstanding Government Service. In our interview, Janine speaks more about her experiences in life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science (2:57)
Janine has a wide variety of interests outside of science, including visiting art museums near her home in Washington D.C. and around the world. She also likes spending her free time hanging out with her family, listening to jazz music, playing the piano, reading the Sunday paper, and staying active through yoga, Tai Chi, and Zumba.
The Scientific Side (5:35)
There are 27 Institutes and Centers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Research on women’s health is being conducted across all of these Institutes, and Janine helps lead and coordinate these efforts. In addition, she champions and celebrates the exceptional work that NIH-supported researchers around the world are doing. Janine’s own research focuses on issues in women’s health and diseases of the eye.
A Dose of Motivation (7:39)
“Equanimity under duress.” – LaSalle Leffall
What Got You Hooked on Science? (13:02)
Science was a subject Janine was drawn to from a very early age. Her father is a physician, and her mother is a nurse. Though they never pressured her to follow in their footsteps, Janine became fascinated by medicine and biology. Her first research project in college involved investigating the genetics of slime molds. Though this research topic didn’t particularly captivate Janine, she was thrilled by the process of doing science. She discovered that through research, she could use a methodical approach to ask questions, design experiments, and find the answers to questions that no one had answered before. During medical school, Janine explored a variety of different specialties including child psychiatry, pediatric surgery, and ophthalmology. Ultimately, she decided to pursue ophthalmology. In this field, physicians can use a variety of medicines, eye drops, and surgical approaches to have an immediate impact on patients’ lives through improving their vision or eye function.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges (23:16)
Early in her medical school training at Harvard University, Janine became pregnant with her daughter. This was not something she had planned for at the time, and she had to take a medical leave of absence from school. Initially, there were concerns that Janine’s baby may have health issues, and this made it even more stressful. Thankfully, her daughter was born healthy. However, leaving medical school really affected Janine’s confidence. She wasn’t sure she could go back to finish her medical degree. Janine took some time to reflect on her options, and she realized that this was the only career she really wanted to pursue. She had to go back. Janine’s family lived near Washington D.C., so she transferred from Harvard University to Howard University to be near her family for support as she re-entered medical school. It was difficult for Janine to go back on her first day at Howard University, and she really wasn’t sure if she could do it. Nevertheless, Janine persisted. She studied fiercely, and she made it through her medical training to achieve her dream career.
A Shining Success! (27:51)
The first major success in Janine’s career was graduating from medical school. It was so exciting to have her parents and her daughter there to celebrate this career milestone. Also, Janine recently published a review article on dry eye in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. Publishing this review article made it feel like all of her hard work in her ophthalmology research was worth it. In the article, Janine presents a review of the different diagnostic techniques that can be used to determine the type of dry eye disease, the different treatment options that are available, and a carefully thought out algorithm for choosing proper treatments. In addition, it was an honor for Janine to serve as the Deputy Director at the Office of Research on Women’s Health under her long-time mentor Dr. Vivian Pin. Having the opportunity to continue Dr. Pin’s legacy as the next Director has been an even greater honor for Janine. To celebrate Dr. Pin and her work, Janine established the Vivian Pin symposium held annually during National Women’s Health Week. Janine is excited to celebrate the 20th anniversary of National Women’s Health Week in May of 2019 with their symposium on maternal mortality and morbidity.
Book Recommendations (30:29)
Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation For Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Most Treasured Travel ( 31:59)
A few years ago, Janine went to Montpellier in France to deliver a keynote presentation at the Tear Film and Ocular Surface conference. She had a wonderful time catching up with her ophthalmology colleagues, visiting art museums, and enjoying the exquisite cuisine. More recently, Janine visited London to attend the Women Leaders in Global Health conference. This was a great opportunity to meet and learn from women around the world who are leaders in this area. Though she wasn’t in London for long, Janine was able to sample the famous fish and chips there. The dish lived up to its reputation, and Janine looks forward to returning to London again soon.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories (34:37)
Janine fondly remembers her fellowship at the National Eye Institute with the late Dr. Robert Nussenblatt. In addition to ophthalmology, he was keenly interested in geography, so he would mix geographical questions in when testing her knowledge about eye diseases. She learned a lot during her fellowship both about medicine and geography. They saw patients together in the mornings and then discussed patient cases over lunch together afterwards. When Janine first arrived, she was befuddled by Dr. Nussenblatt’s hallmark question “Are you self-contained?”. Janine quickly learned, it was just his quirky way of asking if she had packed her lunch or needed to stop by the cafeteria. Overall, the lab was a really supportive environment, and Janine enjoyed working with a wide variety of people from all over the world during her fellowship.
Advice For Us All (42:07)
Overcome barriers, and exceed expectations of those who discourage you from your dreams. Find your own passion, and go after it. Don’t let anyone deter you from achieving your goals. Also, sex is an important biological variable that needs to be rigorously accounted for in the biomedical continuum from the laboratory to the clinic. Science is one of the best ways to solve problems in the world. We can do an even better job of addressing complex public health problems by looking at male and female differences and by studying studying both sexes in the lab, the clinic, and when delivering care.
In her research, Janine found a connection between ocular surface disease and premature ovarian failure in young women. This discovery set the stage for her commitment to the rigorous exploration of the role of sex/gender in health and disease. Janine is the architect of a policy that requires scientists applying for NIH funding to account for sex (that is, being male or female) in their studies involving animals and humans, to help ensure that both women and men receive the full benefits of medical research. Outside of work, she enjoys sitting on her deck enjoying nature, taking leisurely walks, listening to music, reading the Sunday paper, and playing tennis. She also does yoga and tai chi. Often, she relaxes at home with her husband and unwinds with a good book or movie.