Basque Fact of the Week: Monica Bertagnolli, Granddaughter of Basque Immigrants, Nominated to Lead NIH

On May 15, 2023, President Joe Biden nominated Dr. Monica Bertagnolli to head the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH), the largest public funder of biomedical research in the world. Dr. Bertagnolli’s nomination is notable because, if confirmed, she would be only the second woman to lead the NIH. Dr. Bertagnolli is the granddaughter of Basque immigrants from Nafarroa Beherea who settled in rural Wyoming in the early 1900s to raise sheep and cattle.

Monica Bertagnolli, MD; photo from NIH.
  • Dr. Monica Bertagnolli was born in 1959 in Wyoming. Her parents, John and Elizabeth Bertagnolli, were of Italian and Basque descent, respectively. Dr. Bertagnolli was raised on a cattle ranch – the White Acorn Ranch – near Boulder, Wyoming. She got her undergraduate degree in biochemical engineering at Princeton University before studying medicine at the University of Utah.
  • Over her career, Dr. Bertagnolli has established herself as an expert in treating cancers. She is also an advocate for rural health care. In 1999, she joined the Harvard Medical School and became Chief of Surgical Oncology at the Dana–Farber Cancer Institute in 2007. She has received numerous recognitions for her work, including being elected to the National Academy of Medicine and appointed to the Board of Directors of the American Cancer Society.
  • In 2022, Dr. Bertagnolli was confirmed as Director of the National Cancer Institute. If she is confirmed as Director of the National Institutes of Health, she would be the second woman to lead that institution. She was the first woman to head the National Cancer Institute.
  • Her mother, Elizabeth Jean Bertagnolli (nee Carricaburu), was born on February 6, 1936, in Rock Springs, Wyoming. She obtained her nursing degree from St. Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing in Denver.
  • Her aunt, Josephine Marie Jauregui, was a strong advocate for the Basque culture. A fixture of the Alkartasuna Basque Club in Rock Springs, Josephine would share her knowledge of all things Basque to any who would listen.
  • Elizabeth’s parents were Gaston and Mary Carricaburu (nee Larre). Gaston was born in 1904 in Banka, Nafarroa Beherea in a region known as Kintoa, a pasture area that has been long disputed between France and Spain. Mary, born in 1910, was from nearby Baigorri, also in Nafarroa Beherea. Carricaburu – Karrikaburu in modern spelling – means something like crossroads or intersection.

Primary sources: Monica Bertagnolli, Wikipedia; U alum Monica Bertagnolli nominated as director of NIH, University of Utah; President Biden Announces Intent to Nominate Dr. Monica Bertagnolli as Director of the National Institutes of Health, The White House; Biden Nominates Rock Springs Native, Dr. Monica Bertagnolli, To Lead National Institutes of Health, Cowboy State Daily

4 thoughts on “Basque Fact of the Week: Monica Bertagnolli, Granddaughter of Basque Immigrants, Nominated to Lead NIH”

  1. Greetings,
    Very interesting! Saint Etienne de Bigorre is a lovely place!! So are the Pyrenees!! St Etienne is sheep country.
    Speaking of sheep–tomorrow I am picking up two new wooly books at Barnes and Noble–one of which is “Boyhood Among the Woolies: Growing up on a Basque Sheep Range”. By Richard W. Etulain.

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