Be All You Can Be
August 2019 Issue
by Jane Kendall
Photography by Christian Lee
From the time she was 15 years old, Jerri Barden knew she wanted to become a doctor. This seemed like an impossible dream, considering she was born in a charity hospital to a poor family. However, Jerri was blessed with bright, empowering women in her family and a healthy streak of determination. Her high school summer job as a nurse’s aide introduced her to the world of medicine and inspired her to become a physician. Despite naysayers, Jerri graduated from high school and enrolled at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia, as a pre-med major. Nothing was going to stop her from realizing her dream! She continued her studies at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, where no female had been accepted for the previous 25 years. Jerri was about to break through the “glass ceiling” for her first time. The second occurred when she was introduced to medical research while in medical school. Her mentor obtained a National Institutes of Health (NIH) research trainee grant for her, which revealed and illuminated the path to her future. Jerri became passionate about research, and her first scientific research paper was published in The Journal of Arthritis and Rheumatology.
Upon graduation, NIH in Bethesda, Maryland, granted Dr. Jerri Barden a three-year fellowship to continue her research in arthritis and infectious diseases. Coming directly from medical school, this was an honor which had heretofore been reserved for the best and the brightest male physicians all from Ivy League schools (“glass ceiling” breakthrough No. 3). While at the NIH, Dr. Jerri helped rediscover and name an organism responsible for arthritis, the JB strain.
Dr. Jerri became one of the early researchers and experts on AIDS. She recommended the first AIDS-related therapy for FDA approval during the ‘80s epidemic. She traveled to conferences all over the world, giving lectures on the most current AIDS research. After completing her fellowship research at the NIH, where she also met and married her beloved husband, Dr. John Calvin (Cal) Perkins, a handsome, double Harvard graduate and infectious disease specialist, Dr. Jerri was recruited by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because of her specialized training in infectious diseases.
For several years she made recommendations regarding safety and effectiveness for new drugs and devices seeking to be put on the market. This experience later afforded her a new career in private consulting for clinical trials. In 1984 Dr. Jerri established Perkins and Perkins, Inc., to teach auditing techniques for clinical professionals. She consulted with pharmaceutical and medical-device companies to propel products to market. Her organization saved companies countless hours and dollars with regulatory strategies. She dissolved the company after 27 years but continues to audit clinical trials and often lectures on ethics related to such trials.
On June 1, 2019, Dr. Jerri Barden Perkins received the Distinguished Alumna Award for her significant achievements, contributions and leadership within her profession from the University of Mary Washington (UMW). For decades she has utilized her medical expertise to volunteer in free clinics, and she continues to offer advice and support to UMW students who are seeking careers in the medical field.
So what does one do after reaching such a professional pinnacle? Perhaps chill out, with purpose, of course! For many years Dr. Jerri has immersed herself in a daily Iyengar yoga practice to heal her body from injuries sustained in a skiing accident. Iyengar yoga focuses on the structural alignment of the physical body through postures and breath control. Now a certified yoga instructor, Dr. Jerri teaches classes for strength and alignment. She loves sharing what she has learned and will be teaching a workshop at Jiva Yoga Studio on Hilton Head Island on August 10 from 2:00-3:30pm. Come and meet the yoga doctor and let her help you get yourself back into alignment!
Influenced by these strong women: Mother, Sybil; Aunt, Felicitia; Grandmother, Helen. “To these women, I will be forever grateful.”
Greatest Mentor and Supporter: Husband, Cal, who showed her the path through many doors of opportunity. He was her window and pathway into the men’s world in medicine. He died ten years ago from a rare blood disorder.
Greatest passion: Education! Dr. Jerri has set up and funded several scholarships for students in chemistry, research, study-abroad programs and the classics. She herself is a lifelong learner.
Message to Others: Be open to possibilities to enhance your life!