Ruth Kirschstein, M.D.

Principal Deputy Director, November 1993 - December 1999 and May 21, 2002 - February 8, 2003. Acting Director, NIH, from January 1, 2000 - May 20, 2002.

Dr. Ruth L. Kirschstein served as the NIH Deputy Director from November 1992 to December 1999, and from May 21, 2002 to February 8, 2003. On January 1, 2000, Dr. Kirschstein was named Acting Director, NIH, and continued to serve in that role (technically called Principal Deputy Director) until May 20, 2002. 

Dr. Kirschstein received a B.A. degree magna cum laude in 1947 from Long Island University. She went on to earn her M.D. in 1951 from Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, LA. She interned in medicine and surgery at Kings County Hospital, Brooklyn, and did residencies in pathology at Providence Hospital, Detroit; Tulane University School of Medicine; and the Warren G. Magnuson Clinical Center, NIH.

From 1957 to 1972, Dr. Kirschstein performed research in experimental pathology at the Division of Biologics Standards (now the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, FDA). During that time, she helped develop and refine tests to assure the safety of viral vaccines for such diseases as polio, measles, and rubella. Her work on polio led to selection of the Sabin vaccine for public use. For her role, she received the DHEW Superior Service Award in 1971.

In 1972, Dr. Kirschstein became Assistant Director of the Division of Biologics Standards. That same year, when the division was transferred to the FDA as a bureau, she was appointed Deputy Director. She subsequently served as Deputy Associate Commissioner for Science, FDA.

In 1974, Dr. Kirschstein was named Director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, NIH. She held that position for over nineteen years. From September 1990 to September 1991, she also served as Acting Associate Director of the NIH for research on women's health.

Dr. Kirschstein has twice taken part in World Health Organization deliberations in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1965 as a member of the WHO Expert Group on International Requirements for Biological Substances, and in 1967 as a consultant on problems related to the use of live poliovirus oral vaccine.

Dr. Kirschstein has received many honors and awards, including the PHS Superior Service Award, 1978; the Presidential Meritorious Executive Rank Award, 1980; election to the Institute of Medicine, 1982; the Public Health Service Equal Opportunity Achievement Award, 1983; a doctor of science, honoris causa, degree from Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, 1984; the PHS Special Recognition Award, 1985; the Presidential Distinguished Executive Rank Award, 1985; the Distinguished Executive Service Award of the Senior Executive Association, 1985; an honorary doctor of laws degree from Atlanta University, 1985; an honorary doctor of science degree from the Medical College of Ohio, 1986; the Harvey Wiley FDA Commissioner's Special Citation, 1987; selection by the Office of Personnel Management as 1 of 10 outstanding executives and organizations for its first group of "Profiles in Excellence," 1989; the Dr. Nathan Davis Award from the AMA, 1990; an honorary doctor of humane letters from Long Island University in 1991; election as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1992; and the Public Service Award from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in 1993.

In 2000, Dr. Kirschstein received the Albert B. Sabin Heroes of Science Award from the Americans for Medical Progress Education Foundation. The following year, she received honorary degrees from Spelman College in Atlanta, GA, and from Georgetown University Medical School in Washington, DC. She was also recognized by the Anti-Defamation League, which bestowed her with their Women of Achievement Award.

This page last reviewed on July 26, 2022