Meet the RWJF Health & Society Scholars Program

May 31, 2012, 7:06 PM

The RWJF Health & Society Scholars program is building the nation’s capacity for research, leadership, and policy change to address the multiple determinants of population health.

How does the neighborhood you live in affect your health? How about the local crime rate, financial debt, or whether the public schools have a no-tolerance anti-bullying policy? These are the kinds of questions that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars program has explored for the last decade.

Whether people live healthy lives is largely determined by what happens to them outside of the doctor’s office. The program’s scholars are encouraged to look beyond the traditional explanations of health care and biology to examine how powerful social factors such as education, income, race, and neighborhoods affect a population’s health.

Since 2001, the program has built the field of population health by producing leaders who will change the questions asked, the methods used to analyze problems, and the range of solutions offered to improve the health of all Americans. Scholars investigate the connections among biological, behavioral, environmental, economic, and social determinants of health.

The Health & Society Scholars program (HSS) recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. It remains one of the few programs in the country supporting interdisciplinary research on the broad determinants of health. Based at The New York Academy of Medicine, HSS is co-directed by Jo Ivey Boufford, MD, president of the New York Academy of Medicine, and Christine Bachrach, PhD, president of the Population Association of America. The program is overseen by a national advisory committee of individuals from various disciplines and experiences related to population health. Harvey Fineberg, MD, PhD, president of the Institute of Medicine, chairs the advisory committee.

Each year, this highly competitive program selects postdoctoral scholars to train for two years at one of six leading universities: Columbia University; Harvard University; University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco; University of Pennsylvania; University of Michigan; and University of Wisconsin, Madison.

In coming weeks, Health & Society Scholars will discuss the nation’s current population-health challenges and offer their thoughts for addressing them on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. Mark Hatzenbuehler, PhD, will be among the first scholars to weigh in. He has authored research examining the influence of environment on suicide among gay teens, and is increasingly recognized as a leading expert on mental health issues affecting lesbian, gay and bisexual populations.

Read more about the RWJF Health & Society Scholars program 10th anniversary here. Read about the work of some of the program’s scholars here and here.


This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.