A few months ago, I had the pleasure of participating in the making of a new documentary, Creating Scholars for Population Health: A Celebration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars Program. The film is so much more than a program history, it is an introduction to a few of the many promising population health scholars who are alumni of the program as well as a chronicle of some of the most exciting research, conducted in recent years, to make our communities healthier places to live, work, play and learn.

As president of the Academy during our 10 years as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars (HSS) National Program Office (NPO), I have had the pleasure of working with two wonderful co-directors, David Vlahov, RN, PhD, FAAN, (2007-2011), now dean of Nursing at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) and Chris Bachrach, PhD, a research professor at the Maryland Population Health Research Center, who is still with HSS, as well as the program's National Advisory Committee of academics, practitioners and policy makers committed to advancing population health.

In addition, the program’s success has depended on the leadership and commitment of distinguished faculty at Harvard, Columbia, the Universities of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin and UCSF-Berkeley. I can genuinely say that working with all of them and the fabulous young scholars has been one of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences of my career. That’s why I have written this letter to share some of the achievements of the 193 scholars who participated in the program over 13 years.

While the current HSS cohort will be the program’s last class, as RWJF sunsets its current human capital programs and launches new ones as part of a major strategic transition, the program’s work continues into the first quarter of 2017. The NPO has sponsored two leadership workshops for program alumni, one in July, 2015, and the other this past June.

As the early alumni cohorts move into leadership positions in academia, think tanks, government and, for some, starting their own businesses and nonprofits, it is exciting to see their efforts to make changes that can support the kinds of interdisciplinary scholarship and collaboration across sectors that will be needed to advance population health sciences and population health. To read about the current and future learnings from the program, view the HSS Legacy Vault.

While you can find more details about HSS on the program website, I do want to highlight a few initiatives that have shown great potential to transform population health.

In work that won a White House Champion of Change medal, David Van Sickle, PhD, MA, (HSS 2006-09), created new solutions to managing asthma—a disease that effects 1 in 11 children and 1 in 12 adults in the United States, through his company Propeller Health (formerly Asthmapolis). He has become a leader in using new technologies to engage patients and communities to better prevent and treat asthma.

In research that analyzed how media, language and cultural expressions of racism trigger the stress response, Courtney Cogburn, PhD, (HSS 2012-14), an assistant professor of Sociology at Columbia University, developed a multidimensional measure of racial stress and how it links to cardiovascular functioning and psychosocial resources.

White House Fellow (2009-10), Mehret Mandefro, MD, MSc, AB, (HSS 2007-09), a physician, medical anthropologist and HIV/AIDS researcher, successfully sought to maximize her ability to influence public health policy by focusing on global health issues and using film as her medium. Her documentary Difret (currently on Netflix), which has won awards at Sundance and around the world, took on the issue of bride kidnapping of young girls in Ethiopia. Her 2008 film, All of Us looked at the drivers of HIV infection in black women.

Douglas Jutte, MD, MPH, (HSS 2003-06), a pediatrician and assistant professor at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Public Health, investigates resilience and vulnerability in children. He has broken new ground in understanding the role community development can play not only in improving educational opportunities and lowering crime, but also improving health through his Build Healthy Places Network.

And of course, José Pagán, PhD, (HSS 2003-05), director of the Academy’s Center for Health Innovation, conducted research showing how individuals were impacted by living without health insurance and how communities were effected by having large uninsured populations. His study advanced health care reform efforts by showing that having a large uninsured population reduces the quality of health care for everyone. It is highlighted in the influential National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine report America's Uninsured Crisis: Consequences for Health and Health Care.

I have no doubt that all of the scholars will continue to advance a culture of health and create dynamic solutions to the population health challenges we face around the world today.


Jo Ivey Boufford, MD