March 16, 2023

Dr. Karina Walters selected to lead NIH Tribal Health Research Office

Karina L. Walters, Ph.D., M.S.W. Karina L. Walters, Ph.D., M.S.W.

I am pleased to announce the selection of Karina L. Walters, Ph.D., M.S.W., an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, as director of the NIH Tribal Health Research Office (THRO). Dr. Walters’ wealth of experience and deep commitment to engaging tribal leadership in health research efforts makes her ideally suited for the position. Her commitment to community-based participatory research is evident in her demonstrated ability to sustain collaborations with diverse Native communities and conduct successful randomized clinical trials in tribal communities. She succeeds David R. Wilson, Ph.D., who is on assignment to the White House Council on Native American Affairs. Dr. Walters will begin her new role as the THRO Director on April 24, 2023. 

A social epidemiology and health prevention scholar, Dr. Walters currently is a tenured full professor and the Katherine Hall Chambers Scholar at the University of Washington (UW) School of Social Work. She also serves as an adjunct professor in the Department of Global Health and the School of Public Health and is the founding director of the UW Indigenous Wellness Research Institute. Prior to her current positions, Dr. Walters served from 2012-2019 as Associate Dean for Research at the UW School of Social Work, overseeing and assisting faculty in generating $20-30 million in grants annually.

Dr. Walters will work to advance initiatives to ensure tribally informed biomedical and behavioral research, enhance NIH’s tribal consultation and tribal engagement efforts, and coordinate American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) research and research-related activities across NIH and with other federal entities. She has more than 28 years of AI/AN health research experience, encompassing foundational science, disease prevention, health promotion, and intervention research. She has conducted social epidemiological research on the environmental, historical, social, and cultural determinants of health and health equity in AI/AN communities as well as designed and empirically tested, tribally derived chronic disease prevention interventions. Much of her early social epidemiological research involved LGBT, Two Spirit, and urban AI/AN populations across the United States. Additionally, she has conducted tribal-based intervention research in the areas of substance use disorders, obesity prevention and physical activity promotion, diabetes and depression, and HIV prevention. She has served as an NIH principal investigator or co-investigator on 35 NIH awards from multiple NIH Institutes. She is the first American Indian fellow inducted into the American Academy of Social Welfare and Social Work (AASWSW).

Dr. Walters earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and an M.S.W. and a Ph.D. in social welfare, also from UCLA. 

Please join me in welcoming Dr. Walters. I want to thank Dr. Wilson for his years of service as the THRO director and wish him success in his new endeavors. I also want to acknowledge and thank Robin Kawazoe for her willingness to take on the role of acting THRO director pending Dr. Walters’ appointment.

Lawrence A. Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D.
Performing the Duties of the Director, NIH