NIH News Release
Office of the Director, NIH

Tuesday, January 9, 2001
Marc Stern
(301) 496-2535

First Director of New NIH Center Sworn-in Today;
"National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities" Was Established by U.S. Congress

Bethesda, Md. — John Ruffin, Ph.D., was sworn-in today as the first Director of the newly-established National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD) at the National Institutes of Health. The new Center will conduct and support research, training, dissemination of information, and other programs about minority health conditions and about populations with health disparities.

"I am delighted that Dr. Ruffin has accepted the challenge of launching this important new Center,” said Ruth L. Kirschstein, M.D., NIH Acting Director. “Dr. Ruffin’s activities over the last decade with NIH have been outstanding, and his interest in the study of health disparities has already led to important advances in the field.”

"While the diversity of the American population is one of the Nation's greatest assets, one of its greatest challenges is reducing the profound disparity in health status of America's racial and ethnic minorities, Appalachian residents, and other similar groups, compared to the population as a whole. And although some of the causes of disparate health outcomes — such as differences in access to care — are beyond the scope of biomedical and bio-behavioral research, the NIH can play a vital role in addressing and easing health disparities involving cancer, diabetes, infant mortality, AIDS, cardiovascular illnesses, and many other diseases. The NIH has made health disparities a budget priority and an area of emphasis, " Dr. Ruffin explained.

The NIH is also seeking to improve the visibility of minority health disparities research and other health disparities research as well as expand the role of such research in learning why some groups have disproportionately high rates of disease. In addition to awarding grants and contracts independently, the new Center will continue the legacy of the Office of Research on Minority Health in partnering with the NIH institutes and other centers to support programs of health disparities research with a focus on basic and clinical research, training, and the dissemination of health information. In particular, the NCMHD will serve as the focal point for coordinating and focusing the minority health disparities research and other health disparities research programs at the NIH into a national health research agenda.

The specific goals and purposes of the new Center include the following:

About Dr. Ruffin

Dr. John Ruffin has over 25 years of experience in developing and administering innovative programs designed to train the next generation of minority scientists and improve the health of minority populations. Throughout his career, he has been committed to creating new learning opportunities for minority students and faculty and developing research programs to improve minority health.

In 1990, Dr. Ruffin was appointed as the first Associate Director for Research on Minority Health at the NIH. In this role, he has been successful in planning and bringing to fruition the largest program in the country promoting minority biomedical training and health research. Soon after assuming this position, he convened an advisory Minority Fact-Finding Team to help NIH identify specific minority health concerns and current gaps in minority training. Working in collaboration with the 53-member Fact-Finding Team, he organized three large national meetings involving nearly 1,000 members of minority communities. Their recommendations served as guidelines for the Minority Health Initiative, a set of programs aimed at improving minority health throughout the lifespan and increasing the participation of underrepresented minorities in all phases of biomedical research. The Minority Health Initiative received strong support from Congress and was initially funded for $45 million in 1992. Support has increased each year to a current funding level of over $86 million.

Dr. Ruffin has received numerous awards and recognitions, including the Presidential Meritorious Rank Award (1998) for his exceptional leadership in developing the largest program in the country promoting minority health research and biomedical training; the Samuel L. Kountz Award for his significant contributions to the cause of increasing access and participation in organ and tissue transplantation in minorities; the NIH Director's Award; National Hispanic Health Leadership Award; Beta Beta Beta Biological Honor Society Award; National Medical Association Award of Appreciation; and a Special Recognition Award by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

A native of New Orleans, La, Dr. Ruffin received his Baccalaureate Degree from Dillard University (New Orleans) and Master's Degree from Atlanta University. He earned a Ph.D. at Kansas State University (Manhattan) in Systematic and Developmental Biology, followed by Postdoctoral Studies at Harvard University.