2023: Looking back, Diving In.

In this last blog of the calendar year, I will consider some of the highlights of the Office in my first few months as Director as well as our plans for the start of the new year.

First, by way of introduction, I wanted to share a little bit about myself. Prior to my appointment at OBSSR on July 30 of this year, I had served on the faculty at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle for 23 years. I was Director of Clinical Training in the UW Department of Psychology and directed two research centers on mental health and HIV as well research projects in the U.S., China, and Africa. A recipient of NIH funding for over 25 consecutive years, I led research on health disparities and resilience among populations that have been socially marginalized, including clinical trials evaluating novel interventions for persons with HIV and other chronic illnesses, Latinx, LGBTQI+, and indigenous peoples (see a brief biography here).

This summer, I came into a well-established office staffed with a seasoned team committed to enhancing the impact of health-related behavioral and social sciences research (BSSR), coordinating and better integrating BSSR within the larger NIH ecosystem, and communicating health-related BSSR findings to stakeholders both within and outside federal government—in short, committed to OBSSR’s mission.

During my first few months, I have focused on reaching out to leaders across the NIH to develop relationships that will further our mission while working with OBSSR staff to continue our established programs and activities. The OBSSR’s Director’s Webinar series during this time addressed violence as a public health problem and the theoretical and practical importance of advancing health equity. In addition, OBSSR co-hosted two workshops with the Adherence Research Network at NIH on promoting the science and practice of health behavior maintenance. Finally, I had the honor of providing opening and closing remarks for the NIH BSSR Festival, a yearly event organized by OBSSR and the NIH BBSR Coordinating Committee (BSSR-CC).

It was my pleasure to present at the Social, Behavioral, and Economic (SBE) COVID Consortium Annual Meeting in September 2023. The SBE COVID Consortium is a group of NIH-funded teams investigating the SBE impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers highlighted accomplishments that included developing and publishing digital health and community interventions, guidance for data harmonization and sharing, and data science activities related to Covid-19 health impacts.

In late September, I attended a ceremony in the Rose Garden that announced the new White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention with Dr. Dara R. Blachman-Demner, a staff member who coordinates research in this area at OBSSR and who represents OBSSR as a member of the Community Firearm Violence Prevention Network (CFVP). An NIH-supported community-academic research collaboration, the CFVP is working to prevent firearm violence across the United States through developing, implementing, and evaluating innovative community-based interventions.

Earlier this December, our office hosted the ‘Understanding and Addressing the Health Impacts of Online Abuse and Harassment Workshop’, as part of the NIH response to the White House Task Force to Address Online Harassment and Abuse. Our two-day workshop is part of a series of scientific workshops hosted by NIH to identify gaps, opportunities, and challenges in advancing a research agenda to better understand the clinical, health, and developmental impacts of online harassment and abuse and develop innovative prevention and intervention efforts.

In the coming year, we will introduce our new Deputy Director and release our next five-year strategic plan. Also, I will work to develop OBSSR partnership outside of NIH by attending several research conferences, at which I will have a chance to engage with emerging and established scholars and NIH grantees, learn more about innovations in BSSR that we as an office can support, and share what our office is accomplishing.

I will end by noting that the leading causes of death among Americans continue to have clear behavioral and social antecedents. Many deaths are preventable, if only we better implement the BSSR-informed strategies we know to be effective. Certainly, we cannot fulfill NIH's mission to improve health and lengthen life without coordinated support for rigorous and impactful BSSR across the NIH.

This is the mission of OBSSR, which we look forward to fulfilling with your engagement this year.

Have a wonderful holiday season and best wishes for the new year.