Elizabeth Howe Bradley, ’86, got her first real experience in healthcare in ninth grade. Growing up in New Britain, Connecticut, she volunteered as an orderly at a local hospital, rinsing tools in the operating room while watching surgical procedures in progress. The stint at the hospital taught Bradley she has a strong stomach. It also presaged a remarkable career in health-care administration and education.
In 2017, Bradley was elected unanimously as the 11th president of Vassar College, holding joint appointments as professor of political science and professor of science, technology, and society. “It’s an all-encompassing role,” Bradley said. “One is responsible for a vast array of activities from finances, to the academics, to faculty. It takes using every skill I ever learned to be able to do this job.”
Before arriving at Vassar, Bradley spent more than 20 years at Yale University, first as a doctoral student, and later as a professor in public health. She was also the founder and faculty director of the Yale Global Health Leadership Institute, and director of Yale’s Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy. She was appointed head of Yale’s residential Branford College in 2011; she and her husband, fellow Booth graduate John Bradley, ’86, lived on campus with their three children as she developed programs to foster its community.
While an undergraduate majoring in economics at Harvard University, Bradley took a sociology course that focused on the ambiguity between public and private ownership in industries such as healthcare. The experience steered her toward studying in the Full-Time MBA Program at Chicago Booth, with a focus on health-care administration. “The quality and intensiveness of the classes [at Booth] I will never forget,” Bradley said. “They’d never let you go easy on yourself. You had to really work. I almost failed accounting. But that process of challenging yourself to the nth degree taught me how much I could do, and what others could do around me. It stayed with me my whole life.”
Focusing throughout her career on enhancing healthcare globally, Bradley has led revolutionary innovations in the delivery of cardiovascular care, long-term and end-of-life care, and health-care management. “Chicago Booth gives you a way of thinking,” Bradley said. “It gives you a mindset that is, ‘We could be visionary and bold, and achieve things that haven’t been achieved before.’”
Upon earning her degree, Bradley accepted the administrative fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. She stayed on as an administrator, and helped lead the first generation of quality improvement efforts as part of the National Demonstration Project on Quality Improvement in Health Care.
Bradley next pursued a PhD in epidemiology and public health at Yale, graduating in 1996. After finishing her degree, she remained in New Haven, Connecticut, to join the faculty of the Yale School of Public Health. On sabbatical in 2005-2006, Bradley worked for the William J. Clinton Foundation on a project in Ethiopia, training hospital heads to ensure better treatment for patients. She went on to develop similar programs in Liberia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. Her work abroad led to her becoming founder and faculty director in 2009 of the Yale Global Health Leadership.
“The Chicago Approach, where you learn not what to think but how to think, has fully influenced my career,” Bradley said. “It is the root of liberal arts. It’s exactly what Vassar College is all about as well. I am enjoying leading here with that same approach.”
Bradley has earned several Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and National Institutes of Health grants, the Teacher of the Year award from the Yale School of Public Health, the John D. Thompson Prize for Young Investigators, and the Donaghue Investigator award from the Patrick and Catherine Weldon Donaghue Medical Research Foundation, and is a member of the National Academy of Medicine.
“Being recognized by Chicago Booth is a thrill,” she said. “To be honored in this way makes me feel good, and I really enjoy being a representative of the school.”