Populating Population Health: The Health & Society Scholars and the Young Epidemiology Scholars Programs

Chapter 11

This chapter of To Improve Health and Health Care, Volume XV, takes a look at two of the Foundation's 'legacy' programs—Health and Society Scholars and the Young Epidemiology Scholars. The very first grants made by the newly minted Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 40 years ago for scholarships that enabled needy students—minorities, women, and people from rural areas—to attend medical school. These programs marked the first in a long line of scholarship and fellowship programs to improve the qualifications, credibility, and diversity of those working in the health and health care fields. In fact, although the Foundation takes pride in its strategic planning, clearly stated tactical goals, and quantitatively measurable outcomes, a substantial percentage of its expenditures—some $765 million, or approximately 9 percent, over the past 40 years—has gone to fellowships and scholarships whose value, though not so easily measurable in the short run, is indisputable.

The Foundation has used its fellowship and scholarship programs to strengthen fields to which it has given priority. In the late 1990s, in conjunction with dividing its programming into health and health care, the Foundation began focusing attention on the emerging field of population health (that is, the health of large numbers of people, as contrasted with individuals).

Following its practice of seeding academic research in areas that it deems important, the Foundation launched two new fellowship programs to strengthen population health research: the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars and the Young Epidemiology Scholars. In this chapter, Tony Proscio, a journalist and consultant to foundations and nonprofit organizations, examines these programs—their derivation, their activities, their recipients, and their significance.