On December 21, 2014 Dr. John Ruffin, founding director of the NIH’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), gave the keynote speech for the University of Maryland School of Public Health’s Fall Commencement.
Dean Jane Clark introduced Dr. John Ruffin, who worked for the National Institutes of Health for more than 24 years, during which he oversaw the transition of the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities to a stand-alone Institute at NIH. Dr. Ruffin began by exhorting the more than 260 graduates to be grateful for the efforts of their family and friends, who enabled them to complete their studies, and to honor them for their help.
He also provided advice to the students as they embarked on their career paths, emphasizing the importance of finding mentors to guide them, as well as to find work that they enjoy and value.
“The School of Public Health has equipped you to be leaders. As you traverse on this journey to greatness, imbue yourself with work that is meaningful,” Dr. Ruffin said.
Speaking of the field of public health, Dr. Ruffin said that strides had been made in addressing smoking rates and infant mortality, but identified obesity, infectious diseases, and drug fatalities as persistent challenges to the health of the nation.
Dr. Ruffin emphasized that significant work remained to address health disparities.
“We need more urgent attention…on the social determinants of health, environmental factors, issues of racism and economics that we have for so long ignored as having any association to our health.”
The school’s Maryland Center for Health Equity (M-CHE), which is funded by the NIMHD and was designated as an NIH Center of Excellence in 2012, is carrying this mantle through research and interventions designed to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in rates of chronic diseases, obesity and vaccine preventable diseases. Led by Drs. Stephen Thomas and Sandra Quinn, M-CHE is proudly building upon Dr. Ruffin’s legacy of training and mentoring minority scientists and health professionals, whose presence and perspectives in the laboratory, the classroom, the doctor’s office and the community are crucial to the success of the movement to eliminate health disparities.
Dr. Ruffin praised the Center for Health Equity for organizing the Mission of Mercy and Health Equity Festival in September 2014, which provided free dental care and health screenings to more than 1,200 in need of services.
“[The Mission of Mercy] was a demonstration of public health in action based on teamwork and collaboration on many levels,” he said. “[Yet] with 1500 people turned
away, it is a signal that there is a problem with our dental care system.”
Dr. Ruffin encouraged work on policy changes to improve the dental care system for Maryland adults. He also urged the School of Public Health to continue to advance work on health disparities, global health, and health policy through its academic programs.