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While our focus is on patients and their families, we also celebrate the many faces and names around the NIH community who help contribute to research and discovery for the future. This month, we had a chance to speak to Dr. Christine Grady, who currently serves as the chair of the Department of Bioethics at the NIH.

Dr. Grady first began her career at the Clinical Center as a clinical nurse specialist in the allergy, immunology and infections disease area, before receiving her PhD in Philosophy and joining the Department of Bioethics. Her current department is integrated across the NIH, providing consultation, education and even conducting their own research.

“The Department of Bioethics is a wonderful resource for this organization. We do a lot of things that I think are very helpful,” said Dr. Grady. “The questions that come here are often the typical clinical questions that you would get anywhere, but we also get a lot that are very specific to the fact that we do research: Questions about research design, or whether certain patients are good candidates, or how to make sure they really understand what they are getting into. We get very interesting and sometimes very difficult research-related questions.”

Dr. Grady believes that research is an important and necessary social good, designed to answer questions about things such as human health and how to prevent illness.

“Research can only be done, really, when it’s about human health, by ultimately involving humans in those research adventures,” she said, adding that “the people who volunteer to participate in the research studies that we do here are absolutely critical to ultimate social good, and there would be no Clinical Center and no NIH without people being willing to volunteer for research.”

Witnessing the strength patients display during their stay at the Clinical Center, while they help further research, has left a strong impact on Dr. Grady during her career. She tells Friends@NIH that when asked about her experiences at NIH, a million faces of past and present patients come to mind. While it can be natural to feel great empathy for patients who have struggled with life threatening diseases, Dr. Grady says she is most often amazed and inspired by the patients she treats.

“You think to yourself, ‘this poor person.’ But then sometimes you go into the room and you see somebody sitting in a chair, fully dressed, wig on, and the physician says, ‘Well how are you feeling today?’ And they say, ‘I feel great!’ And you think, ‘Where do people get this kind of courage?’

People come from all over the country, and world, to participate in these clinical trials. They come from very different backgrounds, and have a variety of different needs: medically, personally and financially. Those who do not have the safety net and resources to stay at the Clinical Center have difficulty dealing with the demands of their illnesses and treatments they are undergoing while also dealing with the concerns of their personal lives.”

In Bioethics and in her career, Dr. Grady is aware of the socioeconomic determinants of health, which refers in part to the many factors that impact a patient’s health, healing, and recovery. Some of the factors she mentioned include: a person’s stress levels, what they do for work, their relationships with family, their spirituality, how much they worry about money and how much control they feel they have over their own life.

“There are just so many factors that go into healing,” said Dr. Grady. “The way that the NIH Clinical Center has always been set up has been around the fact that these are people who have lots of needs, and we have so many wonderful resources available for people who come here and participate in studies.”

Friends@NIH strives to provide this improved quality of life for patients undergoing trials at the NIH Clinical Center. You can help Grady and Friends@NIH further support patients by getting involved and becoming a friend!

Written by Rhianna Stepien

The Friends of Patients at the NIH