RWJF Scholars & Fellows Speak: What’s a Culture of Health? What Does It Take to Get There?

Oct 21, 2013, 9:05 AM, Posted by

Linda Wright Moore, MS, is a senior communications officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

Developing a vision for a national “culture of health” has been central to internal discussions at the Foundation, as we’ve engaged in a deliberative process of strategic planning for the future.

For the past year since marking our 40th anniversary, we’ve been asking ourselves where we should set our sights and focus our energies in a rapidly changing world, in order to advance our mission to improve health and health care for all.  Consider: the population is aging, becoming more diverse. Technological advances are transforming how we communicate, how we provide health care, and more. “Big data” is making once tedious and time-consuming calculations and analysis routine. Out of our deliberations—a new vision of the way forward has emerged, presented in the 2013 President’s Message from Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA: "We, as a nation, will strive together to create a culture of health enabling all in our diverse society to lead healthy lives, now and for generations to come."

To begin to informally road test that vision, we posed a question to RWJF grantees and alumni at an RWJF-sponsored reception at the AcademyHealth meeting in Baltimore last summer. In impromptu interviews, we asked, “What is a culture of health? What does it take to get there?

Several themes emerged, that cut across the varied perspectives of our interviewees. David Fakunle, a Project L/earn alumnus, pointed out that access to health care for all is essential—but so is proactive, empowered engagement of patients. Robin Newhouse, an Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative grantee, echoed the importance of patients as partners with providers, rather than passive recipients of treatment.

Nurse Faculty Scholar Maja Djukic and Kelly Devers, an alumna of Scholars in Health Policy Research, connected “culture of health” to the collective values we uphold across society, beyond clinical treatment settings. Education, safe neighborhoods, access to nutritious food, and willingness to make nutritious food choices are among the values that define social determinants of health.

David Grande, associate program director of the Clinical Scholars program at the University of Pennsylvania and a Health & Society Scholars alumnus, says key to creating a culture of health is strong leadership, focused on health and not just delivery of health care. Lisa Cooper, an alumna of the Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program, says diversity and inclusion require bringing everyone to the table, across differences of opinion and of status to be heard and to contribute ideas and perspectives. Michael Caldwell is Commissioner of the Duchess County, NY Department of Health and a national advisory committee member for the Public Health Services Research program. He touched on the big barriers to a culture of health—fear and ignorance among them.

Take a look at all the responses to our culture of health query here. And visit the Human Capital Network to share your thoughts about our vision of a national culture of health.

No question about it—achieving a national culture of health is a huge challenge. We hope you’ll be with us on the journey.  There’s lots of work ahead.

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