Steven Woolf, MD, MPH


Home Institution:
Virginia Commonwealth University

Social Epidemiology

Current Positions:
Virginia Commonwealth University,
Director, VCU Center on Society and Health

How do we increase awareness among policy makers and voters of the powerful links between social policies and health?

Scholar Project

The Connecting the Dots initiative aims to raise awareness of the connections between health and social factors, such as education, income, neighborhood, and community. It targets policy makers and voters, whose actions shape these conditions but who rarely understand the full health consequences of their decisions. 

Most academics who study health lack experience in the policy world and are poorly equipped to package and deliver messages in a way that is compelling and accessible to policy makers and voters.  Dr. Woolf is developing a more effective approach to translating and delivering evidence by forging a collaboration between largely disconnected disciplines:

Researchers who have mastered the scientific evidence linking social factors and health

Policy experts with intimate knowledge of key change agents and decision-makers and how to reach them

Communication experts with talent in developing messages and marketing attractive, engaging materials in various media

Foundations with a willingness to support the collaboration over five years to test its effectiveness

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Dr. Woolf’s work as an Institute Scholar aims to:

Establish the collaboration

Demonstrate the ability to reach influential audiences

Plan for creative products and impactful venues

Collect data on awareness levels

Elicit feedback and learn from target audiences how to provide more useful information

Raising awareness about the social determinants of health is of urgency amid the current economic crisis, as our society struggles with major decisions affecting social factors, such as employment, education reform, and a fraying social safety net during a time that demands fiscal restraint.

Dr. Woolf’s project seeks to establish a new model for communicating scientific evidence to decision-makers. It will demonstrate the power of formal teamwork among scientists, communication experts, and policy advisors to help audiences understand the relevance of evidence on any health issue. Woolf and his team hypothesize that none of these groups acting alone can communicate as effectively as the product that emerges when these talents join hands.



Steven H. Woolf, MD, MPH, is Professor at the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. He received his medical degree in 1984 from Emory University and underwent residency training in family medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University.

A clinical epidemiologist, Dr. Woolf was trained in preventive medicine and public health at Johns Hopkins University, where he received his Master of Public Health degree in 1987. He is board certified in family medicine and in preventive medicine and public health.

Dr. Woolf has published more than 150 articles in a career that has focused on evidence-based medicine and the development of evidence-based clinical practice guidelines, with a special emphasis on preventive medicine, cancer screening, quality improvement, and social justice.

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From 1987 to 2002, he served as science advisor to and a member of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Dr. Woolf edited the first two editions of the Guide to Clinical Preventive Services and is author of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in Clinical Practice.

Elected to the Institute of Medicine in 2001, Dr. Woolf served as associate editor of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and as North American editor of the British Medical Journal. He has consulted widely on various matters of health policy with government agencies and professional organizations in the United States and Europe.

Education & Training

Residency, family medicine, Virginia Commonwealth University

MD, Emory University

MPH, Johns Hopkins University

BA, University of Missouri-St. Louis


Selected Honors

Chair, Panel on Understanding Cross-National Health Differences Among High-Income Countries, National Research Council and Institute of Medicine

Senior adviser and past member of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

Elected to Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, 2001

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Past North American editor of the British Medical Journal

Past associate editor of American Journal of Preventive Medicine


Selected Publications

Articles & papers

Necessary But Not Sufficient: Why Health Care Alone Cannot Improve Population Health and Reduce Health Inequities.
Annals of Family Medicine, May 2019

Changes in midlife death rates across racial and ethnic groups in the United States: systematic analysis of vital statistics.
BMJ Clinical Research Education, August 2018

Failing health of the United States.
BMJ, February 2018

PreventionPriorities: Guidance for Value-Driven Health Improvement.
Epub, 2017

Defining Health in a Comprehensive Context: A New Definition of Integrative Health.
American Journal of Preventive Medicine, July 2017

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The Good Life: Working Together to Promote Opportunity and Improve Population Health and Well-being.
JAMA, April 2016

Authentic Engagement Of Patients And Communities Can Transform Research, Practice, And Policy.
Health Affairs, April 2016

Translating evidence into population health improvement: strategies and barriers.
Annual Review of Public Health, March 2015

Rethinking the information priorities of patients.
JAMA, May 2014

Transforming preventive medicine science, practice, education, and policy.
American Journal of Preventive Medicine, December 2013

Where health disparities begin: the role of social and economic determinants—and why current policies could make matters worse.
Health Affairs, October 2011

The US health disadvantage relative to other high-income countries: findings from a report by the National Research Council/Institute of Medicine.
Journal of the American Medical Association, February 2013

The price of false beliefs: unrealistic expectations as a contributor to the healthcare crisis.
The Annals of Family Medicine, November-December 2012

Clinical and community delivery systems for preventive care: an integration framework.
American Journal of Preventive Medicine, October 2013

Social policy as health policy.
Journal of the American Medical Association, March 2009

Public health implications of government spending reductions.
Journal of the American Medical Association, May 2011


See articles & papers on PubMed


Co-editor, U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health, National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2013

Co-editor, Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in Clinical Practice, 2007

Co-editor, Guide to Clinical Preventive Services, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 1996.