2010-08-12 / News

Islander makes career of germs, bacteria and infectious diseases

By Geoff Campbell

Dr. Judith Heelan Dr. Judith Heelan Though the thought of dealing with bacteria and infectious diseases might make the average person cringe, it’s all in a day’s work for Dr. Judith Heelan.

Heelan, a 40-year resident of Jamestown, was recently appointed vice chair of the Clinical Faculty Advisory Committee at the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University. Heelan has served on the CFAC since its inception in 1999.

Her chief responsibility, however, is serving as director of the Microbiology Lab at Memorial Hospital, where she has been since 1989. There, she – along with the lab supervisor – oversees the lab systems and protocols, and the personnel who perform diagnostics of “potentially infectious agents.”

Heelan has been a teacher and a leader at Brown’s medical school, the only one in Rhode Island, for the past 23 years. The medical school began awarding medical degrees in 1975, conferring about 90 annually, according to the university’s website.

Heelan is excited by a “variety of research projects in the field of controlling infectious diseases” currently being conducted at Brown’s Alpert School of Medicine. She added that the medical school is “doing great work in anti-microbial resistance.”

She also noted that “multi-drug resistant bacteria,” one of the largest fields in microbiology, “barely existed” when she began her career.

Heelan received a Bachelor of Science degree in medical technology from the University of Rhode Island and stayed on at URI to earn both a Master’s degree in microbiology and a Ph.D. in biological sciences – microbiology.

She said she continues to find microbiology “the most fascinating area of clinical laboratory work,” adding that “infection control” is one of the most important areas of study and practice for hospitals and doctors today.

Beginning her career in academia, Heelan taught at both Rhode Island College and Salve Regina at various times between the birth of her two children – and pursuing her Ph.D.

In addition to being a professor at Brown, Heelan also serves as adjunct faculty for both Community College of Rhode Island and URI.

“Another important function of the Clinical Faculty Advisory Committee,” according to the Brown medical school website, “is to select winners of the annual Teaching Excellence and Teaching Recognition Awards.”

Among the numerous awards Heelan has received for her teaching are the Teaching Recognition Award for Clinical Faculty (May 2000) and the Teaching Excellence Award for Clinical Faculty, Brown Medical School (May 2004). Both are awarded annually.

Heelan’s rich resume speaks to her ability as a speaker, presenter, teacher, author and association board member.

Since 1989, Heelan has functioned in a number of roles in the Northeast Association for Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Disease, including serving on the Board of Directors from 1989 to 1991, and on the Executive Board from 1991 to 2000.

Memorial Hospital also recently announced that Heelan has been reappointed as co-director of the Brown Integrated Pathology Residency Program and will serve as site director for Memorial Hospital’s Pathology Residency Program. She will work to ensure that Memorial Hospital’s residents receive comprehensive training in all areas of anatomic and clinical pathology.

As site director, she will serve as the initial contact for the residents during their rotations and will work with the program director to provide an integrated residency training experience.

When she is not working to make hospitals safe from infection – or raising up the next generation of anatomical and clinical doctors of micro-biological pathology – Heelan enjoys the beach at Mackerel Cove and spending time with her husband, Jack, their two children, Stephanie and John, and their six grandchildren. John lives with his family in Portsmouth and Stephanie, a former Jamestown Press sports reporter, lives on the island with her family.

Heelan’s 40-year relationship with Jamestown – “a very beautiful place” – began with a summer vacation in 1970. That fall, the Heelans became island renters, and two years later, purchased the house that they still call home.

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