April 21, 2017 | James M. Raczynski, Ph.D., dean of the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), was invested April 20 as the inaugural recipient of the M. Joycelyn Elders, M.D., Chair in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.
Raczynski, professor and founding dean of the College of Public Health since 2002, has focused the college’s mission on health promotion and disease prevention to improve quality of life for entire communities.
An endowed chair is among the highest academic honors a university can bestow on a faculty member and is established with gifts of at least $1 million, which are invested and the proceeds used to support the educational, research and clinical activities of the chair holder. Those named to a chair are among the most highly regarded scientists, physicians and professors in their fields.
The chair is named in honor of Elders, a UAMS emeritus professor of pediatrics and distinguished professor of public health who served as the 15th U.S. surgeon general under then-President Bill Clinton from 1993-1994. She was the first African-American, second woman and first Arkansan appointed to the post. Several hundred individual donors contributed to the funding of the chair to honor her legacy.
“Dr. Elders is a real pioneer here at UAMS, and what she has done for public health over the course of her lifetime is nothing short of remarkable,” said UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn. “Dr. Jim Raczynski’s leadership as dean, scientist and teacher has been the driving force behind the success of our College of Public Health. This chair symbolizes UAMS’ commitment to build upon Dr. Elders’ legacy of better health for all, and Dr. Raczynski is the perfect choice to continue that legacy.”
Elders is a member of the UAMS Foundation Fund Board and was inducted into the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame in August. UAMS honored Elders in 2015 with a portrait commissioned by the College of Public Health. A video of the portrait unveiling was shown at Raczynski’s investiture. It included remarks from former Gov. Mike Beebe and the late Thomas Bruce, M.D., inaugural dean of the College of Public Health and former dean of the College of Medicine. Bruce, who died in 2016, was a longtime supporter of Elders and helped facilitate the creation of the chair.
Elders received her medical degree from UAMS in 1960 and joined the faculty after completing her master’s degree in 1967. Before being appointed surgeon general, Elders served as director of the Arkansas Department of Health from 1987-1993. During her tenure she nearly doubled childhood immunization rates, expanded the state’s prenatal care program, and increased home-care options for the chronically and terminally ill.
Elders continues to advocate for access to health care as a fundamental right. Her work as a pediatric endocrinologist led to her advocacy for adolescent health and reducing rates of substance abuse and pregnancy among teenagers. She continues to be a champion for the poor and disadvantaged, challenging leaders to acknowledge the evidence that there are socio-economic benefits in healthy communities.
Elders recently donated her professional and personal papers, memorabilia, and artifacts to the UAMS Library Historical Research Center. Once organized, the collection will be available for use by researchers, students, faculty and the public.
As a special surprise for Elders, former President Bill Clinton penned a letter congratulating her on the chair being created in her honor. It was read aloud by Stephanie Gardner, Pharm.D., Ed.D., UAMS senior vice chancellor for Academic Affairs and provost.
“We all owe you a debt of gratitude for your lifelong work, and I can’t think of a better way to honor you than with an endowed chair at UAMS, to which you have already given so much,” Clinton’s letter said.
“It is fitting that this chair is named for one of our state’s pioneering public health advocates in Dr. Elders,” Gardner said. “This chair will help with long-term strategic goals in public health that can have a far-reaching impact in Arkansas, and Dr. Raczynski’s leadership and vision are essential to making those impacts felt.”
Elders, who attended the ceremony along with her husband, Oliver Elders, thanked her family for their support, and made special mention of Tom Bruce and also Jennifer Pritzker, founder and president of the TAWANI Foundation, for their dedication.
“I am very grateful, but I’m not grateful for me,” Elders said. “I’m grateful for all those young women over there along the Delta, and I say but for the grace of God, there go I. Dr. Raczynski, along with myself and many others, are going to make sure to reduce poverty, ignorance and enslavement along the Delta,” Elders said.
Raczynski was presented with a commemorative medallion by Rahn and Gardner.
Raczynski thanked Pritzker and the other donors who helped establish the chair, and acknowledged his wife, Martha Phillips, Ph.D., an associate professor in the College of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology, and their extended family in attendance.
“I am deeply honored to receive this chair, and to have my name associated with Dr. Elders, whom I deeply respect,” Raczynski said. “We will use this chair to work to create a center for women’s health that will address the issues of teenage pregnancy and risky sexual behavior, while providing educational opportunities and treatment options.”
Former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., praised Elders for her tireless work in pursuit of better public health, particularly sexual health.
“Dr. Elders has meant so much to me, and my life and career, and to so many others in public health,” Satcher said. “First and foremost, we in public health are supposed to care, and she cares deeply. I don’t need to tell you that she has the courage to act.”
Other speakers at the ceremony were William Greenfield, M.D., division director of obstetrics and gynecology and associate professor in the UAMS College of Medicine; Billy Thomas, M.D., UAMS vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion and professor in the College of Medicine; Herman Taylor, M.D., endowed professor and director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine; Jodiane Tritt, J.D., vice president of government relations for the Arkansas Hospital Association; and Joseph Bates, M.D., professor of epidemiology and associate dean for public health practice in the UAMS College of Public Health, and deputy state health officer and chief science officer for the Arkansas Department of Health.
During Raczynski’s time as dean, the College of Public Health was accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health in a record two years. It expanded from four initial faculty members to 59, and from 90 graduate students to 270, spread across 24 different education programs. Raczynski’s leadership has helped create multiple practice, research and educational partnerships between the college and academic institutions, organizations and agencies throughout Arkansas.
“Jim, your body of work reflects the basic principle that health includes, but is much more than, hospitals and medications,” Taylor said. “All of us who are concerned about health disparities owe you an incalculable debt.”
“There is not a soul more deserving of this chair than Dr. Raczynski,” Tritt said. “He does extraordinary things in the most humble way.”
“As the founding dean of the College of Public Health, Dr. Raczynski took on the daunting task of starting from scratch,” Bates said. “He is a man of great achievement who has led this school to its outstanding situation.”
Raczynski received his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in clinical psychology at The Pennsylvania State University in 1978 and 1980, completed his clinical psychology residency training at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and became a faculty member at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1981, where he remained for 21 years prior to assuming his current position at UAMS.
Raczynski serves as the founding principal investigator and director for two federally funded research centers: the Arkansas Center for Health Disparities, funded through the National Institutes of Health (NIH); and the Arkansas Prevention Research Center, funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). His research involves primary prevention of chronic diseases and racial and ethnic health disparities.
Raczynski has helped the College of Public Health create a diverse public health workforce well-suited to help solve Arkansas’ health issues, particularly those related to health disparities. He has focused his research on health promotion and disease prevention in the predominantly African-American and rural Arkansas Delta region.
Raczynski has a long and distinguished research career, with funding from over 30 extramural grants and contracts from the NIH, CDC and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. He has published more than 100 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters, and three books.
UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a northwest Arkansas regional campus; a statewide network of regional centers; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute, the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging and the Translational Research Institute. It is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has 3,021 students, 789 medical residents and five dental residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including about 1,000 physicians and other professionals who provide care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS regional centers throughout the state. Visit www.uams.edu or www.uamshealth.com. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.