Aug 1 2012

Meet the RWJF Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College

This is part of a series introducing programs in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Human Capital Portfolio. The mission of the RWJF Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College is to provide leadership in health policy education along with research and reform on a national, state and local level while continually supporting the historic mission of Meharry Medical College: to improve the health and health care of minority and underserved communities.

file Cheryl Chun, MS, MA

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College connects scholars to address health policy solutions, bridging experiences and disciplines from sociology, economics and political science. Each one travels a different road.

Cheryl Chun’s path to medical school began in a high school math classroom.

Teaching in DC public schools taught Cheryl Chun important lessons. Some of her best students missed class while waiting in line at a free clinic with a sick, non-English speaking parent, to assist with translation. Another student was too exhausted to attend class after waiting all night in an emergency room to receive treatment for an asthma attack. Chun found students’ lack of health care access hurt their education.

“I had students who wanted to be in class but the realities of their lives just got in the way,” Chun explained.  Watching her students struggle with access to good health and the myriad of social and economic inequalities that restricted their educational access convinced Chun, 28, to return to school to become a physician. She was committed to practicing in a medically underserved community. So, Chun chose the Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College, where social scientists, policy experts and medical professionals grapple with complex social conditions in search of solutions rooted in health equity.

Chun’s experience isn’t that unusual, according to Meharry Center for Health Policy Executive Director Daniel Howard. He says Asher Turney, a member of the Center’s first cohort, also changed course.  Howard says, “Turney graduated magna cum laude from Meharry Medical School, and went on to train in neurosurgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. But he decided it was more important to focus on providing quality, affordable care regardless of income.” Turney’s new priority led him to the Center for Health Policy at Meharry. Today, he’s the executive director for Choice Medicine, a non-profit community health center in Toney, Ala., which he established.

file Helena Dagadu, MPH

Helena Dagadu took an unexpected detour on her career path too. Dagadu, the daughter of a physician and occupational therapist, was expected to continue the family legacy.  She decided health policy was a better fit.

“I realized that my true passion was broader than medical practice. So I decided to use my strengths and talent in research to change inequitable health policies and practices,” says Dagadu, an RWJF Health Policy Fellow at the Center.

file Asher Turney, MD, MBA

Director Howard says the Center subscribes to the belief that health care does not operate in a vacuum. It is directly shaped by a host of social conditions that impact whether individuals and communities will be healthy or ill. “We’re bringing scholars together to work on health policy solutions across platforms, from sociology, economics and political science. Because that’s the only way we’ll achieve real health equity,” Howard explains. “We need experts who understand how social determinants like poverty, violence and illiteracy can shape health outcomes.”

Launched in 2009, the Meharry Center has successfully attracted nationally recognized scholars and lecturers and is providing hands-on and multidisciplinary research opportunities and mentoring for its scholars and fellows.

The two tracks provided include:

The Health Policy Fellows Program at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at Meharry focuses on the recruitment, selection, and matriculation of African American, Hispanic, and other students of diverse backgrounds interested in health policy through collaborative PhD programs in economics, political science, and sociology with our program partner, Vanderbilt University.

The Health Policy Scholars Program at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at Meharry is for Meharry students with educational and research interests in health policy and social science research. Those selected will receive a Health Policy Certificate to be awarded by the School of Graduate Studies & Research in conjunction with the student’s regular academic program degree.

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Tags: Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College, Diversity, Health & Health Care Policy, Meet Our Programs, Tennessee (TN) ESC