Patrice Desvigne-Nickens, M.D.
NHLBI Celebrates Women Scientists

Patrice Desvigne-Nickens, M.D.


Growing up, Patrice Desvigne-Nickens, M.D., always thought she’d be a doctor. “From an early age, that idea of helping others over yourself was something that was valued,” she said. “I chose medicine for its humanitarian focus. You know, helping others. That’s what makes medicine, for me, the most noble profession.”

As a physician-turned-clinical trials specialist, Desvigne-Nickens now helps others by supporting NHLBI-funded investigators conducting clinical research trials to advance heart disease research.

During the past four decades, Desvigne-Nickens has seen the field of cardiology rapidly evolve. What’s made it exciting? “The discovery of new drugs and pathways,” she said, “and our increased understanding not just about how to identify disease, but also about how to prevent and treat it.” Desvigne-Nickens recalled how before the 1980s, physicians mostly treated patients after they already were having medical emergencies like heart attacks. Today, she said, doctors have far more tools to intervene earlier. These include non-surgical procedures to open a blocked artery, devices to support the heart’s natural rhythm or help it pump blood throughout the body, heart transplants, and personalized strategies for prevention and treatment.

Desvigne-Nickens studied medicine after earning a chemical engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After receiving her medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania and completing an internal medicine residency, she became a medical fellow at NHLBI and later a physician in Detroit and Baltimore. In both places she forged strong bonds with patients because of the multiple perspectives she brought — as a doctor, mother, caregiver, and member of a faith-based community.

In 1991, Desvigne-Nickens returned to NHLBI as a medical officer in the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences’ Heart Failure and Arrhythmias branch. She currently oversees a variety of clinical trials, including the Evaluation of Bromocriptine Therapy for Peripartum Cardiomyopathy (REBIRTH). The study investigates a treatment for moms who develop heart failure following birth to improve their heart’s recovery.

In a clinical trial, “every step is important,” Desvigne-Nickens said – and her work puts her at the center of each stage, from helping define the research goals to ensuring the pool of participants is diverse. “At the end of the day,” she added, “it’s about helping patients while finding better ways to diagnose and prevent or treat disease.”