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It’s hard to believe now, but in the early nineties, while serving as U.S. secretary of health and human services (HHS), Donna E. Shalala, PhD, helped to mandate that women needed to be included in clinical drug trials. Imagine she said, doing breast cancer studies without having women in the studies. And while progress continues to be made in advancing healthcare for women, there is much more work to be done.
Dr. Shalala, who has served as president of the University of Miami since 2001, became president and CEO of the Clinton Foundation when she retired from academia in the summer of 2015. Among her many career accomplishments, she was the longestserving HHS secretary in U.S. history, serving from 1993 until 2001.
Because of these combined experiences of leadership and healthcare, Dr. Shalala was the keynote speaker for the Women’s Health Leadership Breakfast on April 20, 2015, sponsored by University of the Sciences and made possible through the generosity of the Agnes Varis Charitable Trust.
“If you look very carefully, the Affordable Care Act is about women,” Dr. Shalala explained. “More women got covered under the Affordable Care Act than any other group in our society.”
ACA coverage inclusions that benefit women she noted include mandatory maternity care, birth control coverage, and preventative care without co-pays. Approximately, six million women received coverage through the ACA who did not have it prior.
And while healthcare in the U.S. is not perfect, she said, one of America’s greatest strengths is its constant forward motion to improve and the desire by its citizens to have access to the best healthcare in the world. Since access is key component of healthcare, the students that USciences is producing are vital to that forward progress.
“The key to us having a healthy and prosperous society, both economically healthy as well as socially healthy, is good healthcare and great education, and USciences clearly excels at both,” she said. “Increasing [interprofessional education] training is going to be important and doing things out of the box in how we train people. Training pharmacists and physician assistants ... getting people in the room with each other so they respect each other when they get out of school is going to be important.”
The Agnes Varis Charitable Trust was established to support Dr. Agnes Varis’ (1930–2011) passion for women’s rights, the underprivileged, animal rights, and the arts. Dr. Varis believed that philanthropy uplifts both the individual and the community.
Left to right: Keynote speaker Dr. Donna E. Shalala, ANDREW M. PETERSON, PharmD, PhD’09, the John Wyeth Dean of Mayes College of Healthcare Business and Policy; and MARVIN SAMSON HonAlm’96, board chairman.
“Although there have been significant advances in women’s healthcare, we still have a considerable way to go before the needs are met appropriately,” said USciences board chairman MARVIN SAMSON HonAlm’96, who was a cofounder of the generic pharmaceutical company Marsam Pharmaceuticals, Inc., with Dr. Varis. “Agnes fought a constant battle against gender discrimination… In many ways, Agnes broke the glass ceiling, allowing us to celebrate the increasing advances and impact that women have made in healthcare.”
Dr. Varis’ political and business stature was such that she helped draft the Hatch- Waxman Act, which eased generic drugs’ passage to market, as well as the Greater Access to Affordable Pharmaceuticals Act, which passed as part of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003.
“The irrepressible Agnes Varis, though her work and her philanthropy, made the world a lot healthier and happier,” said Dr. Shalala.