Young Leaders Transform the Future

    • November 15, 2012

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) announced 10 winners of its first-ever RWJF Young Leader Award in late October 2012. The award recognized leaders who are ages 40 or under for their exceptional contributions to improving the health of the nation. The awards also signaled the winners’ strong potential for future leadership. Each honoree received $40,000.

"As we reflected on our accomplishments over the past 40 years, we also wanted to look to the future," said RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD. "During the relatively short period that our foundation has been operational, these impressive men and women were born and raised and started doing amazing things that can potentially improve the health of all Americans. We're proud to acknowledge their early success, and inspired by the potential they have to improve U.S. health and health care."

The 10 recipients of the RWJF Young Leader Awards are:

Ruben Amarasingham, MD, MBA
An algorithm developed by Amarasingham’s group spots patients whose social conditions put them at high risk for relapse after discharge from the hospital. Using this breakthrough technology, Parkland Hospital in Dallas has cut its 30-day readmission rate among Medicare heart-failure patients by a stunning 40 percent, a $500,000 savings that has sparked nationwide interest in Amarasingham’s technology.

Ashley Atkinson, MSW, MUP
Atkinson is an alchemist, able to turn the rubble of urban decay into loamy gardens that both feed troubled communities and inspire them with a sense of pride and common purpose. From her base in Detroit, she is helping to green cities across Michigan and America.

Scott Halpern, MD, PhD, MBE
Halpern, of Penn’s Perleman School of Medicine, is radically rethinking end-of-life care, with a particular focus on making patient directives—living wills—more rational. His bold psychological insights are also proving valid across a spectrum of tough decisions, ranging from HIV testing to quitting smoking to organ donation.

Naa Oyo Kwate, PhD
With startling comprehensiveness and originality, Kwate video-documents urban neighborhoods to capture and analyze the ubiquity of racist symptoms and messaging. Lately, she has begun to talk back to the urban environment via billboard messages that lay bare—and hopefully defuse—racism’s destructiveness to human health.

Raina Merchant, MD, MS
Blending social media and tournament theory with an emergency physician’s passion to save lives, Merchant mapped the location of every defibrillator in Philadelphia. Next she wants manufacturers to install a GPS chip in defibrillators worldwide so your cell phone will automatically lead you to the nearest one.

Rebecca Onie, JD
Onie’s idea is as simple as it is transformative: empower doctors to prescribe not just medicines and therapy but remedies for the non-medical problems that bedevil the lives of the poor and further imperil their health: social determinants like joblessness, lack of child care, no heat, too little food. The organization she founded, Health Leads, now operates in 23 cities and has trained some 7,000 volunteers.

Carmen Peralta, MD, MAS
Convinced there must be a way to identify—and treat—kidney disease long before renal failure is imminent, Peralta has developed a triple-marker blood test so valid it has already been incorporated into international diagnostic guidelines. Her research is of special significance to African American patients because it discredits a mistaken assumption about genetic differences that routinely led to misdiagnoses.

Doran Schrantz
Director of a broad community coalition called Isaiah, Schrantz led brilliant a grassroots campaign to maximize light rail access in Minneapolis-St. Paul’s Central Corridor. Victory meant convincing government officials that social and economic justice is a return on investment they must not ignore, and that well-planned mass transit has a direct impact on public health, especially among the poor.

Prabhjot Singh, PhD, MD
Singh has created City Health Works! —a community-level social enterprise in East Harlem that delivers preventive health care under the guidance of peer coaches equipped with data-feedback technology. Inspired by his seven years managing clinics in Sub-Saharan Africa, Singh’s approach offers an antidote to overreliance on hospitalization and is proving itself a breakthrough in effective management of chronic illnesses, both mental and physical.

Soma Stout, MD
Stout drew on her Bahá’í faith and health care strategies learned in rural Guyana to turn around a failing community health clinic in a tough town north of Boston. Bringing staff as well as patients—many of them addicts—in on programming and policy decisions were among innovations that have made for an extraordinary success now being widely emulated in numerous other facilities.