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September 12, 2002

Program to Train Health and Society Experts

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has awarded $4.6 million to a joint UCSF and UC Berkeley program to develop leaders who will examine the broad spectrum of factors affecting health and offer solutions to improve the nation’s health.

The new Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholars Program is founded on the principle that progress in the field of population health depends upon collaboration and exchange among the social, behavioral and health sciences.

The program, which will offer two-year fellowships to scholars, is co-directed by Nancy E. Adler, PhD, director of UCSF’s Center for Health and Community, and W. Thomas Boyce, MD, who heads the Division of Health and Medical Sciences at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.

Despite the fact that the United States has the highest expenditures for medical care services in the world, it ranks poorly on multiple indicators of health and well-being, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In the US, studies of the comparative health status of different population groups repeatedly demonstrate marked variations in disease patterns associated with social, economic and environmental conditions.

There is also growing recognition that decisions made outside the health sphere can have unanticipated effects that directly and indirectly affect the health of populations. To improve the nation's health profile, greater attention and resources must be directed to the full spectrum of factors affecting health, according to the Foundation. To increase the array of population-wide interventions, we must better understand the effects of contextual factors on behavior and biology.

“The Health and Society Scholars program is the most recent addition to an increasing number of Center for Health and Community research programs focused on behavioral and contextual contributors to health status,” said Adler. “The integration of biologic inputs creates an extraordinarily important opportunity to bridge the gaps between the bench, beside, and the community in terms of understanding the determinants of health, and how it can be maintained and enhanced through biomedical, individual, and societal interventions.”

The UCSF-UC Berkeley program is one of six at prominent universities selected by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (The others are at Columbia, Harvard, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania and University of Wisconsin.)

It draws upon the strengths of the two campuses. The UCSF side of the program, based in the Center for Health and Community, offers the resources of an outstanding health sciences campus, with top-ranked Schools of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, and Pharmacy, said Adler. The UC Berkeley side of the program, centered in the School of Public Health, utilizes the rich resources of a broad research-oriented arts and sciences campus. The joint scholars program currently has over 60 faculty participating from the two sites, including associate directors Hal Luft of UCSF and Bill Satariano of UC Berkeley.

The training environment is further enriched by participation of three partner institutions – the Division of Population Health and Prevention of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, which focuses on disease prevention and health promotion for San Francisco; the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research which conducts and disseminates research to improve the health and medical care of Kaiser Permanente members and society at large; and the Northern California Cancer Center, which addresses population-based issues regarding cancer in diverse populations.

Planning for the Health and Society Scholars program has been underway for the past year. The first group of scholars will arrive in Fall 2003 and applications are due to Robert Wood Johnson by October 25, 2002.

“The program presents a special challenge and opportunity to collectively shape a new field of knowledge and practice,” said Luft, who is also director of the UCSF Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies. “The excitement of our collective faculty is palpable, and we look forward to having our scholars join us in this effort.”

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based in Princeton, New Jersey, is the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted to improving the health and health care of all Americans.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation


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