Research Note: RWJ Foundation’s New Leadership Programs Foster Multisector Collaboration

By | 3rd August 2017


Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s New Leadership Programs Foster Multisector Collaboration

Susan B. Hassmiller & Kaytura L. Felix


The next time you walk through your community, take a look around. What factors contribute to health? What factors hinder it? Are there sidewalks to encourage walking? What about a neighborhood grocery store and nearby parks? Do people feel safe spending time outside? As a health professional already vested in interprofessional collaboration, you intrinsically understand that patients are more likely to receive high-quality care and enjoy positive experiences when doctors, nurses, pharmacists, social workers and other health professionals are educated together and collaborate as part of a high-functioning team (e.g. Hassmiller & Goodman, 2011; Barnsteiner et al. 2007; McNair, 2005; Reeves et al. 2013).


But doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and social workers cannot fix broken sidewalks by themselves. They cannot entice a grocery store to open in a struggling community, build a neighborhood park, or improve neighborhood safety. Solving root causes of poverty and inequity take multisector collaboration. As someone vested in interprofessional collaboration, you can take the skills you have used to build effective teams to partner with sectors outside of health and health care. The key is to care about a social problem, summon your passion to act on it, and find others to help you. Consider reaching out to potential partners from the business community, architecture, city planning, education, transportation, or other fields, to get at the root causes that influence people’s health.


Revamping the Leadership Programs

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recognizes that our nation’s complex health challenges are influenced by factors well beyond the clinic walls, from our access to economic opportunity to the safety of our surroundings (Lavizzo-Mourey, 2014). Complex social factors—education, neighborhoods, transportation, income, and faith—influence how healthy we are (Shortel, 2013). As a nation, we need to address the root causes that affect health.  That is why we are dedicated to working with others to build a Culture of Health, to enable all people to live the healthiest lives possible and to experience greater well-being. As part of our new focus on building a Culture of Health, we redesigned in 2014 some of our longstanding leadership programs to include more disciplines, and we made a difficult decision to end other programs that focused on single disciplines.  In their place, we created four new leadership programs that are intended to systematically address the complex challenges facing our nation (Lavizzo-Mourey 2014). We sought to make our programs more interprofessional and team-based, as well as to cultivate, activate and connect networks of leaders and organizations across sectors, both within and beyond health and health care (Hassmiller, 2014).


Our new leadership programs support leaders as they develop the skills and relationships they need to spur meaningful change. We want to equip doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals to transcend their traditional health care roles, to work together across sectors, and to help to address complex local health challenges. We want to bring together leaders in business, public health, and other fields to explore new opportunities to increase access to healthier products and make investments that build healthier communities. Our programs will enable leaders in fields such as transportation, urban planning, and economic development to gain visibility and influence as local ambassadors for health. These programs will also support the efforts of individual scholars and cross-disciplinary research teams to identify key barriers to health and to use their research findings to spark community action.


Our leadership programs aim to make a distinction between “expertise” and “leadership.” Often, professionals, including those in health and health care,, are promoted for their expertise in a particular area but feel ill-equipped to get their peers and teams to follow their lead. They do not have the will, commitment or capability to catalyze the change needed in their organizations or communities.  In other words, they are unable to produce committed action in others. (Institute for Generative Leadership, 2014). Participants in our leadership programs receive professional coaching, mentoring and networking opportunities to give them tools to catalyze change, as well as coursework on health equity and leadership development. The goal is to make good health more equitable for all by developing strong leaders who have the will, commitment and skills to collaborate to redress persistent health challenges.


Initial Cohort Includes More Than 150 Leaders

More than 150 leaders were selected to participate in our inaugural cohort that launched last fall. Our four new leadership programs are:

  • Health Policy Research Scholars: builds equity by investing in scholars from underrepresented populations or disadvantaged backgrounds whose research, connections and leadership will inform and influence policy toward a Culture of Health.
  • Interdisciplinary Research Leaders: equips teams of researchers and change agents with advanced leadership skills and a clear focus on health and equity, allowing them to apply health research and policy to meet the pressing needs of communities.
  • Culture of Health Leaders: supports leaders—from all sectors that have an influence on people’s health—to create collaborative solutions that address health inequities and move their communities and organizations toward a Culture of Health.
  • Clinical Scholars: prepares and supports small teams of clinicians, from a range of disciplines, to lead transformative change—centered on health equity—in their communities.


Multisector Collaboration at Work

Our inaugural class represents a diverse range of fields, from architecture to transportation to community organizing. Our intent is to foster collaboration among people who do not traditionally work together on a daily basis and who bring unique perspectives. For example, one project in Indiana pairs early childhood researchers with a faith and justice leader to provide quality early education to help children of incarcerated parents thrive, and to keep these children—now and in the future—out of prison. The team includes Angela M. Tomlin, an associate professor in the Indiana University School of Medicine who specializes in child development; Karen Ruprecht, director of innovation in early education at Early Learning Indiana; and Shoshanna Spector, executive director of Indianapolis Congregation Action Network (IndyCan). This kind of collaboration carries the best potential to solve complex health and social issues effectively and equitably.


Apply to RWJF Leadership Programs

As strong proponents of interprofessional collaboration, you understand the importance of working across disciplines and sectors to create lasting change. We hope you will commit to collaborating with other partners in your community to build a Culture of Health that enables all in our diverse society to lead healthy lives and to experience greater well-being, now and for generations to come.


Please consider applying for one of our leadership programs, or pass the word on to your colleagues or students who would be a good fit. Applications for the next round will be released early next year.




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