Joan Downey, MD, MPH Assistant Dean, College of Arts & Sciences, WU Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Newborn Medicine, WUSM Director, University Scholars Program in Medicine Attending Physician, Newborn Medicine, SLCH
Pediatric residency: The Children’s Hospital, Boston
Medical degree: Harvard Medical School, Boston
Master’s degree in Public Health: Harvard School of Public Health, Boston
Dr. Downey’s dad left New York’s Hell’s Kitchen to work in the oil fields of Colombia, South America. That is where he met Dr. Downey’s mother, and it is where Dr. Downey grew up and completed her primary school education. During her childhood, she saw children die from preventable causes like lack of food, malaria and diarrhea. It was obvious to her that by becoming a physician, she could make a difference.
Her decision to become a neonatologist derived from an early experience as well. She moved to Miami and while completing her high school education, she worked as an admitting clerk in a hospital. She overheard a conversation a neonatologist was having with a patient’s parents. It was then she realized that with neonatology she did not have to pick an age group. Rather, she could take care of both children and their parents.
Dr. Downey met her husband, Herbert “Skip” Virgin, MD, PhD, the Edward Mallinckrodt Professor and chief of pathology and immunology at the School of Medicine, in high school. They came to the School of Medicine in 1990 upon completing their training at Harvard.
In addition to her responsibilities as a neonatologist, Dr. Downey also has served as past director of Children’s Hospital’s Antenatal Consult Service, Labor & Delivery Service and Nurseries at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Dr. Downey has been a premedical advisor since 1979, initially as a Head Resident Tutor at Harvard and subsequently on Harvard Medical School’s Admissions Committee. In 2002, she joined the Pre-Health Professions Program as assistant dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, serving as coordinator of the Undergraduate Research and Clinical Programs at the School of Medicine. She continues her work as a neonatologist at Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Downey is a founding member and past president of the Academic Women’s Network at the School of Medicine. For the past 10 years, she has helped organize an annual, multi-specialty medical mission trip to Honduras, Central America, and was instrumental in building a hospital in Catacamas, Honduras.
She and her husband have three children: Son Whitt received his undergraduate degree in biology from Harvard College and now is in his fourth year of medical school at Stanford University School of Medicine. Son Brett received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Rice University and is applying to chemistry graduate schools. Daughter Jaelithe is a freshman at Harvard College and has an interest in the intersection of science and policy.
Dr. Downey enjoys ocean sailing, traveling and reading.