Beyond Borders

Photo: Rod Searcey

Michele Barry functions at a super-powered pace, which she simply calls "overloaded." During preparatory visits as well as quickly after her May 1 arrival at the School of Medicine as senior associate dean for global health, she squeezed in more than 200 meetings. Some were shorter than others and the total may have been closer to 300. But she was intent on listening to everyone who had something to say.

Or maybe she wanted to make up for a sense of lost time. It took her two years to decide to leave Yale for Stanford—"the longest recruitment known to man," she says. Now she's multitasking like someone trying to solve a planet's worth of problems. Which she is.

She has launched an Office of Global Health as a hub for faculty and students who already have various initiatives under way. The Medical School's dean, Philip Pizzo, noted in an email that "our programs have not been organized or coordinated." Barry's vision provides an "overarching umbrella —focusing on education, training, innovation and discovery."

She has been a key adviser for the new Global Health Corps, a nongovernmental organization that brought its first 22 fellows—half from the United States and half from Africa—to summer training at Stanford (sponsored by the Center for Health Policy at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies). The objective is to pair recent U.S. college graduates with fellows from the countries to which they'll be deployed, working as two-person teams to improve healthcare systems. Barry, a tropical medicine expert, also is pushing for national legislation to create a health "Peace Corps" drawing on doctors, nurses and other medical professionals.

She arranged to expand a Yale-based partnership into the Yale/Stanford/Johnson & Johnson Global Health Scholars Program. The program sends physicians to underserved countries such as Honduras and Uganda, where they work as doctors and teachers. Next year's funding will support 14 participants from Stanford.

Those are mere snippets from the Barry highlight reel, and just the Stanford reel at that. She spent 28 years at Yale, where she was director of the office of international health as well as professor of medicine and global health. She and husband Mark Cullen, new chief of the division of general internal medicine at Stanford, had put down deep roots at Yale, where he was director of the occupational and environmental medicine program as well as professor of medicine and public health. Leaving was hard and Barry hesitated. And hesitated.

Ultimately, says Barry, she saw in Stanford "a place more willing to take risks and a place more receptive to my thinking outside the box." Stanford also was sensitive to the input required from its side. "As is not infrequently the case," Pizzo said, "it takes time to develop the opportunities that attract a world leader to a new institution—since this also requires the potential recruit to determine what he or she could uniquely do at Stanford that is not already being done at Yale."

Almost all Barry's goals have pragmatic specificity. For instance, by maximizing Stanford's strengths in areas ranging from technology to health policy outcomes, Barry wants to take on "calls to action" from overseas partners. Stanford would bring its talents to bear on tightly focused challenges, in the same manner that a team of students designed a low-cost incubator akin to a sleeping bag ("Baby, It's Cold Outside," Planet Cardinal, January/February).

Barry's pragmatism extends to her fund-raising goals. "I have high hopes," she says, "for the Office of Global Health to enable students, residents and faculty to make significant contributions to health equity both overseas and in underserved (U.S.) communities—but I recognize this means looking for unusual sources of support during these economic times."