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Ruth L. Kirschstein, M.D. (12 October 1926 – 6 October 2009) was a pathologist and science administrator at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. Kirschstein served as director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, deputy director of NIH in the 1990s, and acting director of the NIH in 1993 and 2000-2002.[1] Dr. Kirschstein was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and a member of the Institute of Medicine. In 2002, Congress renamed the NIH graduate student fellowship program to the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award in honor of Dr. Kirschstein's work at the NIH.[2]



Ruth Kirschstein was born in Brooklyn, New York on October 12, 1926. Though she trained as a classical pianist, she pursued medicine, graduating in 1947 from Long Island University and earning a medical degree from Tulane University in 1951.[1]

Dr. Kirschstein interned in medicine and surgery at Kings County hospital and completed medical residencies in pathology at Providence Hospital in Detroit, Tulane University Hospital, and the Clinical Center at the NIH.[3]

She was married for 59 years to Dr. Alan S. Rabson, a pathologist and a deputy director of the National Cancer Institute.[1][4 ]


Dr. Kirschstein joined NIH in 1955. She studied clinical pathology, laboratory medicine, virally-induced cancer and tested the safety of measles and polio vaccines following the 1955 Cutter Incident.[1][2]

In 1972, Dr. Kirschstein became deputy director of the Division of Biologics Standards, a research division that was transferred from NIH to the Food and Drug Administration, where investigated the safety of the artificial sweetener cyclamate.

When she returned to the NIH in 1974, Dr. Kirschstein became the first woman to direct an institute when she was appointed the director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.[1]


Dr. Kirschstein received honorary degrees from the University of Rochester School of Medicine, Long Island University, Atlanta University, Medical College of Ohio, and Mount Sinai School of Medicine.[3]

Among the awards received by Dr. Kirschstein are the Georgeanna Seegar Jones Women's Health Lifetime Achievement Award, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology's Public Service Award, the American Medical Association's Dr. Nathan Davis Award, the Harvey Wiley FDA Special Citation, Presidential Rank Award of Distinguished Executive (the country's highest civil service honor), the PHS Equal Opportunity Achievement Award, the Alice C. Evans Award, and superior service awards from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and the United States Public Health Service.[1][3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Pathologist Helped Ensure Vaccines' Safety", October 17, 2009, Washington Post
  2. ^ a b "Taken for Granted: NIH's Dr. Ruth", Beryl Lieff Benderly , Science doi:10.1126/science.caredit.a0900150
  3. ^ a b c Ruth L. Kirschstein, M.D., Maryland Women Hall of Fame
  4. ^ " Ruth Kirschstein and Alan Rabson", Science 15 June 2001: Vol. 292. no. 5524, p. 1989 doi:10.1126/science.292.5524.1989

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