Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Awards in Health Policy Research

For two decades, the Investigator Awards program has built the foundations of health policy by supporting innovative projects, unlikely to receive funding elsewhere, by researchers in sociology, history, political science, law, and ethics, among others.

Dates of Program: 1993 to 2014

Description: RWJF became concerned that it was not discovering future leaders in health policy. Many in the field also considered health policy research too narrowly focused and data driven to inform the critical challenges facing the nation.

Its response: In 1991, RWJF began the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Awards in Health Policy Research, which relies on a competitive application process to support researchers in numerous fields who think creatively about the most important problems affecting American health and health care.

The program aims to build the foundations of future health policy. Grants range up to $335,000 over two to four years.

"The award came at a turning point for me. No one was interested in funding research on discrimination in health care, only short-range 'practical' solutions that swept these larger and more controversial problems under the rug."—David B. Smith, PhD


"This award set Jo Phelan, PhD, and myself off on an entirely new research agenda that has dramatically shaped our careers.”—Bruce Link, PhD

Key Results

  • The program has awarded more than $56 million to 224 investigators pursuing 175 projects. Through August 2013, Investigators have published 91 books, 173 book chapters, and 965 articles in more than 150 journals.

  • Investigators have shed light on longstanding health challenges, such as the social determinants of health, the impact of firearms on public health, the organization of physician practices on the quality of medical care, and hospital nurse staffing levels on patient outcomes.

  • Investigators have influenced health care reform. For example, in her dissenting opinion asserting that the Supreme Court should have upheld the Affordable Care Act in its entirety, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited the work of investigators Theda Skocpol, PhD; Mark Hall, JD; and Andrea Campbell, PhD.

  • Numerous investigators have received outside awards for work pursued under the program. For example, many have received Distinguished Investigator Awards from AcademyHealth, and more than 40 have been elected to the Institute of Medicine.

"I became very interested in how illness, disability, health behavior, health care, and death in one individual could have consequences for other individuals to whom they are connected. I had difficulty persuading funders that the effects were plausible or of sufficient magnitude. This award was instrumental in helping me get this project off the ground."—Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD

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#RWJF Investigators bring sociology, history, poli sci, law, ethics, etc. to field of health policy.

"The award allowed me to entirely change the focus of my research and investigate a topic that has received little scrutiny despite high prevalence: mobility problems among adults with chronic conditions."—Lisa I. Iezzoni, MD