Eye on Women’s Health: Karen Wilson takes the helm at Doris Howell Foundation

Left: Karen Wilson, executive director of the Doris A. Howell Foundation. Right: The late Dr. Doris Howell.
(Photos by Elisabeth Frausto and Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The San Diego County-based Doris A. Howell Foundation for women’s health recently named Karen Wilson as its first executive director. Wilson said she is more than ready to use her skills, passion and knowledge “to take this organization to the next level.”

Wilson, who grew up in San Diego, has a master’s degree from the University of San Diego in Leadership Studies (with a specialization in nonprofit management) and more than 15 years’ experience in the nonprofit sector, most recently as the executive director of the Del Mar Foundation. Now living in Carlsbad, she describes herself as an avid hiker and frequent farmers market shopper, who counts her 19 years abroad in Germany among her most inspirational memories. She has a son in college and a daughter who works in San Francisco.

Wilson explained that Dr. Doris Howell established the Foundation in 1995 with the help of the La Jolla Soroptimists. A Soroptimist herself, Howell was “a very prestigious and renowned researcher who was passionate about palliative care. She set her mark in that industry.” Wilson added that Howell started the Foundation to “close the gap left by the research being done with only male subjects. This bias, she believed, was actually threatening the health of women in a lot of instances.”

Having never met Howell, who passed away in 2018 at age 94, Wilson said she is nonetheless acutely aware of the need to carry on Howell’s legacy.

“Dr. Howell triggered something that has so much critical importance in our society,” Wilson said. “There is still much work to be done, and this understanding of women’s health — and how critical it is, in turn, to the health of families and communities — is the message we’re taking further.”

One of the challenges, Wilson said, “is how do we move forward honoring the story of Doris Howell and ensuring we can continue her mission for the next several years? The answer, we believe, is to implement the Foundation’s vision while changing some infrastructure, increasing efficiency, and broadening its programs.”

The organization’s mission, she explained, is executed primarily through scholarships offered to undergraduate and graduate students at local universities. These educational gifts inspire young scientists to pursue careers in women’s health. The research they accomplish then becomes a “repository for cutting-edge information about issues affecting women,” Wilson noted, “with the Foundation aiming to make that information available to women.”

The platform for this information exchange is the Foundation’s long-running lunch series, where the research is presented to anyone interested in learning more about issues affecting the women they love.

Wilson said she recognizes the Foundation is limited by the amount of money it raises, and wants to make sure the vision doesn’t get ahead of its budget, “so I hope those who have always been supporters will continue to be supporters and think about the work we’re doing, continuing on in the legacy of Dr. Doris Howell.

“Through friends and family members, I’ve seen what health issues can do to your quality of life and how this impacts your family and everything you do — especially when essential information is not available. The Foundation must keep its focus on helping women have access to the right information and promote self-advocacy — several of my friends’ experiences would have been much less frustrating with more current, accurate and female-specific health data.”

Wilson said the Howell Foundation’s 25th anniversary year will serve as a milestone reinforced by the drive to further expand its mission.

“We are working hard to create a series of programs that will be a very powerful look at where we’re at,” Wilson shared, adding that she hopes the current year-end fundraising campaign will send the Foundation into 2020 well-supported.

She also underscored the Howell Foundation’s need for volunteers, acknowledging the organization’s women-focused work, but also noting that both men and women serve as board members and volunteers. “The work is applicable to men,” she affirmed, reiterating the Foundation’s slogan: “Keeping the women we love healthy.”

For those interested in joining the Howell Foundation: E-mail Wilson at and to learn more about the nonprofit, visit


Event: Women’s Health Headlines 2020

The next Howell Foundation luncheon and lecture will address “Top Women’s Health Stories of the Year,” with speakers Christina Chambers, Ph.D. (Clinical professor of medicine, founding member and past president of the North American Menopause Society, UCSD); Andrea LaCroix, Ph.D. (professor of pediatrics and co-director of the Center for Better Beginnings, UCSD); and Cynthia Stuenkel, M.D. (Distinguished professor and chief of epidemiology; director, Women’s Health Center of Excellence, UCSD). The event runs noon to 1:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7, 2020 at La Jolla Country Club, 7301 High Ave., La Jolla. Tickets are available at