Edith Williams Named Founding Director of the New Office of Health Equity Research
After a comprehensive search, a founding director has been named for the new Office of Health Equity Research, which is housed in the University of Rochester Clinical and Translational Science Institute and is a crucial part of the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Equity and Anti-Racism Action Plan. Edith M. Williams, Ph.D., associate professor of Public Health Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina, will take up the role on September 1, and will also be appointed associate professor in the Departments of Public Health Sciences and Medicine (Allergy, Immunology and Rheumatology), pending URMC Board approval.
“The Office of Health Equity Research will provide foundational science to inform URMC’s commitment to health equality,” said medical center CEO Mark Taubman, M.D. “Edith Williams brings a rich combination of research expertise, institutional experience and local knowledge that will enable her to structure this new office for success, and ultimately to elevate the role of science in achieving health equity, locally and nationally.”
“Dr. Williams has the perfect constellation of research, leadership and mentorship experiences to lead this important effort at URMC,” said UR CTSI Co-Director Nancy M. Bennett, M.D., who chaired the search committee. “She has a long history of helping other researchers and community partners advance their own health equity efforts that I’m excited to see her continue here.”
A Rochester native, Williams began her journey with health equity research while earning a doctorate in Epidemiology and Community Health at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Having grown up in the comforts of suburban Henrietta, she was shocked by the inequities she noticed in Buffalo. Her master’s thesis highlighted the lack of access to fresh, healthy foods in communities with mostly Black residents and led to a grant to set up a community garden and to distribute food from the garden to local residents and food pantries.
For her doctoral research, Williams shifted her focus to lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that disproportionately impacts Black women. Her community-based participatory research in this area included lengthy interviews with patients that moved her to devote her research career to understanding this disease in hopes of improving patients’ lives.
Putting others first is second nature to Williams. As a faculty member at the Medical University of South Carolina, she drove all over South Carolina to collect specimens from lupus patients to reduce the burden of participating in her study. She is also accustomed to working with many partners and stakeholders across sectors and disciplines. Working with partners at historically Black colleges and universities, she developed a pipeline program to mentor HBCU students and to provide them a path into MUSC’s Public Health program.
“As URMC strives to become a leader in health equity research, Dr. Williams’ deep expertise in this area and demonstrated ability to bring researchers and community members together and to advance their goals is exactly what we need,” said Senior Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusion Adrienne Morgan, Ph.D., who co-chaired the search committee.
A key piece of the fifth pillar of the URMC Equity and Anti-Racism Action Plan, the goal of the Office of Health Equity Research is to increase capacity to conduct health equity research across the medical center. The office, with Williams at the helm, will bring people together across research and clinical enterprises and the broader community to develop a learning health system – integrating community-engaged research to inform and improve equitable care for all.
“As a Rochester native, I am overjoyed to be returning home to lead an effort focused on synergizing innovative, transdisciplinary, and impactful research to improve the health of the most vulnerable residents of Rochester and beyond,” Williams said. “It’s time to move beyond simply documenting health disparities toward ensuring health equity through intervention, implementation, dissemination, and translational science.”
As director of the Office of Health Equity Research, Williams will sit on the Equity and Anti-Racism Action Plan’s Health Equity Steering Committee and will work closely with the all of the plan’s task forces. She will also serve as a central resource for all URMC departments, maintaining strong connections to help them develop their own health equity research projects and to encourage that all research be viewed through a health equity lens.
Williams’ first priority when she joins URMC in September is to conduct a listening tour across URMC and the local community to inventory ongoing health equity research and to understand researchers’ and community members’ needs. She will then develop a strategic plan for the first five years of the office’s work.
Susanne Pritchard Pallo |