Blog of Bloodworks Northwest

Seven Times as Smart - Dr. N. Rebecca Haley (S1 E3)

Dr. N. Rebecca Haley is Medical Director of Cord Blood Services, the National Marrow Donor Program Donor Center and Apheresis Center at Bloodworks Northwest. She also gives medical direction for Blood Collection Services. She is a hematologist and has more than 20 years of experience in blood center management and biotechnical development. But more than that, Dr. Haley serves as an inspiration to young women considering a career in science.

Listen below or read on for a full transcript.

Dr. Haley: He said, “I don’t mind having a woman in my medical school as long as she is seven times as smart as any man and so ugly you can’t look at her.”

John: Hi. I’m John Yeager and this is “Bloodworks 101.” A monthly podcast brought to you by Bloodworks Northwest and designed to educate and inspire you to give either time, money, or blood. March is Women’s History Month. The time to honor those women who’ve been trailblazers or leaders in their field. One of those women is Dr. N. Rebecca Haley here at Bloodworks Northwest. According to her Bloodworks Northwest bio, Dr. Rebecca Haley is Medical Director of Cord Blood Services with the National Marrow Donor Program Donor Center and Apheresis Center at Bloodworks Northwest. She also gives medical direction for Blood Collection Services. She’s a hematologist with more than 20 years of experience in blood center management and biotechnical development. Dr. Haley is a Tiffany Award winner as designated by the American Red Cross, a Petteway-Sheppard Award winner. That’s an honor from the North Carolina Association of Blood Banks, and most recently, the doctor of the year, an honor she received from the “Puget Sound Business Journal.”

Woman 2: Doctor of the year, Dr. N. Rebecca Haley Bloodworks Northwest.

John: It’s December 6th, 2019, and the “Puget Sound Business Journal” has just named Dr. N. Rebecca Haley as the 2019 doctor of the year. The N is for Nancy in case you were wondering.

Dr. Haley: Thank you. Thank you for this honor, for this award, but, you know, I think all of us here are gonna say, I’m gonna say it right up front, this is not for me. This is for our group that works together. And furthermore…

John: Her acceptance speech that day was short, just 201 words, but the road she took to get here was anything but. You’ll hear about that a little bit later.

Dr. Haley: And so, thank you for this honor, and thank you for this award.

John: Dr. Becky Haley really doesn’t like talking about herself that much, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t excited to go to work each day, far from it. I caught up with her recently at her Bloodworks Northwest office on Seattle’s First Hill. You’re from North Carolina. It’s a part of the country and a part of North Carolina, I’m guessing, where going to med school wasn’t the first thing a young girl thought to do. Why did you?

Dr. Haley: Well, that always interested me. That was what I always wanted to do. And, of course, when I said I wanted to go to medical school, my director of my program laughed. She said, “Well, you would take a space that a man could use and you have no influence. And so you’ll never get in. The only way you’ll get in is if the child of a physician.” So, they would allow about one woman per year in the medical school class at that time at the University of North Carolina. And the Dean of the medical school at that time was famously quoted. He told everybody, he said, “I don’t mind having a woman in my medical school as long as she is seven times as smart as any man and so ugly you can’t look at her.” He did. This was quoted to me 17 years later when I was applying for medical school because one of the people who had been there at the time, they said, “Oh, yes, of course, you wouldn’t have gotten into UNC at that time.” So, I had a 17-year delay from my graduation from college until I got to a position where I could go to medical school.

John: Yeah. You heard that right. Dr. Rebecca Haley had to wait 17 years from the day she graduated college until she got into med school. I remember when I got my master’s, I was a lot older than a lot of the kids that were there. And I think it had an effect on me. It gave me a perspective. What kinda perspective did that 17-year delay give you?

Dr. Haley: Well, I worked in a hospital, first of all, my local hospital, as a general medical technologist, then I worked in the Red Cross blood bank lab and, you know, became increasingly well informed about blood bank in particular, but also I knew how that fit into medicine in general. When I came back around and got my opportunity to go to medical school, I knew what all of those lab results meant. And I had seen that in a patient’s progress or lack thereof. And so, I had a great deal of context that even though my medical school colleagues had a great deal of enthusiasm, they would have to learn these things and then trust that they would make sense later. And a lot of the things that I learned early on immediately fit into place. It’s as if you had hooks in your mind, and now you had things to hang your new facts on. So, it was very helpful all those years of experience. All the things that I learned were extremely helpful when I went into medicine because it gave it a great deal of context.

John: Tell me about Cord Blood. Why is it so important?

Dr. Haley: We talk about it, of course, because we have a Cord Blood bank, but we have a Cord Blood bank because it is a very valuable transplant resource. If you read the papers that have come out in the last few years about the advantages that Cord Blood transplant can give people, they are mainly that it is better at controlling return of disease, it gives you lower graph versus host disease, and it gives you a full immune recovery after the firestorm is over. And it allows extension of transplant to racial minorities who would otherwise not have a donor.

John: Tell me a little bit about Dr. John Hess and your long partnership with him, and then the impact, I’m thinking of the Airlift Northwest mid-air transfusion service that Bloodworks Northwest is a part of. Tell me about your cooperation and work with Dr. John Hess and what you feel the impact of that has been.

Dr. Haley: Well, I know Dr. John Hess because I met him when he was giving lectures at the American Red Cross Biomedical Services Research Institute. He was still in the army, in the U.S. Army. He was the Medical Director of Blood Services in Vietnam, also in the Iraq war, but he spent his research time trying to find a hemoglobin solution that would serve as a blood substitute. And he worked very, very hard on that. And as he will tell you, that was a failure. It does not work, but he learned, of course, many other things along the way. And he is a superb tactical mind when it comes to supplying blood products, especially for trauma. Then I came here to Seattle and wound up being the Medical Director of the Blood Services and he showed up and was the medical director of Harbor View and the local network that provides transport for trauma patients. About 40% of people die in transport from big trauma, I mean, falling off of a mountain, being in an automobile accident, any of those things that can happen to you.

The military and then some ex-military people who ran transport services for trauma found that they could decrease that death rate en-route from 40% to 14%. Well, that’s pretty significant. And so, if you can get the people into the emergency treatment center alive where there’re plenty of blood supplies, a surgical OR, all that kinda stuff, then you have a much better chance of having a person who lives. It’s just that simple.

John: One thing Dr. Haley wanted me to add here was, through this cooperation today, Bloodwork supplies plasma and whole blood for emergency transport vehicles. I sometimes come by our office and I’m always struck with how personal you take this job. Sometimes you’ll tell me about a weekend at the emergency room. I remember last year I came by and it was a summer afternoon and you said they weren’t just cases to you. And I’m wondering where does that sensitivity come from? I mean, they’re not just cases. They’re people to you.

Dr. Haley: I’ve always seen each medical case as a person struggling with something and trying to go on with their life. When I ask about a case, I try to get enough information so that I can see this individual. When I was taught to do histories and physicals, that was what they told me. They said, “We want someone to be able to pick up this history and physical, no matter how short it is, and be able to pick that person out of a room.”

John: Most people don’t know that you’re quite the pro-tennis fan.

Dr. Haley: Oh, yes. I am a pro-tennis fan. My husband plays tennis four or five times a week. He’s probably at the tennis center now. And we really enjoy watching pro-tennis. I see that my favorite player’s finally retiring. I think that is fabulous.

John: Well, that’s the question. What keeps you on the job here? Why haven’t you done that yet?

Dr. Haley: Well, I will do that. You know, everyone does that eventually, but what I am doing right now is trying to get our cell therapy lab set up for the next set of tasks, for the next high-quality and high difficulty tasks that are going to lead us into the future. And I would like to see that done and then it’ll be time.

John: You’re listening to “Bloodworks 101.” I’m your host, John Yeager. We’ll be right back.

Evan: Hello. My name is Evan and I’m a nurse at Bloodworks Northwest. I’m very proud to participate in Cord Blood collections for the public Cord Blood bank. Your baby’s umbilical cord connects your heartbeat to his or hers. It’s how you give your baby life. What if you could pay it forward? After a baby is born, the umbilical cord is normally discarded. However, this cord contains rich blood-forming stem cells that can be used for a life-saving stem cell transplant. Your gift of your baby’s umbilical cord can save a life. Bloodworks Northwest is home to the first and only public Cord Blood bank in the Pacific Northwest. Our cord blood donation program has proudly banked over 14,000 cords for transplant and sent out 1200 units to patients in need. Patients saved by stem cell transplants include those with leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell disease, bone marrow failure, and immune deficiency disorders. And right now there is an immediate need for donations from African American and Hispanic families to fill the growing transplant need. For more information, go to Thanks for listening.

John: Welcome back to “Bloodworks 101,” and my interview with Dr. Rebecca Haley. As I mentioned before, March is Women’s History Month. So, with that in mind, I asked Dr. Haley what she would tell young women considering a career in science, especially given the obstacles she had to overcome. Tell me about what you would say to young girls considering a career in science and especially medicine given your experience and your ability to overcome the obstacles that were there.

Dr. Haley: If you’re good at it, do it, and don’t let people discourage you. I think that we all have pathways in our mind that are well suited to various professions or avenues of knowledge. As you look around you, for instance, my husband can speak and get along pretty passively four or five languages. And, you know, I can hardly say hello in Farsi, let alone ask you how’s your mother, but my mind does seem to collect scientific facts and they make sense to me and they excite me. So, if that is your situation as a young woman, I would say follow that. People will make fun of you. They made fun of me. I got anonymous cards insulting me about breaking the curve when I was in high school because there were people who said I was keeping them out of college because of my grades. And these were in classes where there were almost all boys because mostly the girls didn’t take those classes. And you just can’t listen to that. You can’t let those people drag you down because they will make fun of you. And you need to be confident in your own talents and your own knowledge, and hopefully, surround yourself with people who can be positive and supportive.

John: What an enjoyable few minutes to spend with you. Anything else that I haven’t asked?

Dr. Haley: No.

John: But there was, when I asked Dr. Rebecca Haley about the difference she felt she’d made as a doctor.

Dr. Haley: I met a woman who was in ICU and they said this woman was in a house fire in Alaska. She was badly burned and she was all wrapped up. We’ve had to sort of put her into a narcotic sleep here in the ICU while we get her through this bad part. And they said she’s also blind because of the CO2 poisoning. We hope she’ll get her vision back, but, well, she was on a ventilator so she was non-communicative and they told me, of course, that she couldn’t see. So, I would go in and I would talk with her and I would do the things that she needed to do. And so, actually, she did get better. Well, she came back a year later for checkup and she had this big shock of red hair, which, of course, she didn’t have it. She could see. And I came to see her. I said, “Well, I just came to say hello.” And she said, “Oh, you’re the doctor with the Southern accent who would come and see me every day.” She said, “I couldn’t talk to you, but I waited for you every day.” And I said, “Well, thank goodness.” And so I talked to her every day and she heard me.

John: Well, that’s just about it for this episode of “Bloodworks 101.” I love Becky Haley’s advice there. Surround yourself with people who can be positive and supportive. Now, if you’d like to learn more information about Cord Blood, which we heard about earlier, go to I hope you’re enjoying “Bloodworks 101.” We’re having a lot of fun putting these episodes together for you. If this is your first time listening to “Bloodworks 101” please subscribe. So far, most people are finding us on iTunes, but we’re also on Stitcher, Spotify, and anywhere else you get podcasts. For “Bloodworks 101” I’m John Yeager. See you next time.

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August 31, 2020 1:16PM

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