As we celebrate 25 years of OBSSR, we have asked the former Directors to reflect on their time at OBSSR. This guest blog was authored by OBSSR’s second Director, Raynard Kington, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A.
I would like to thank the current OBSSR Director, Bill Riley, and staff for providing this opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments when I directed OBSSR from 2000-2003. Prior to serving in this role , I was the Director of the Division of Health Examination Statistics at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics where I led the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a program of studies designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States. Upon becoming the OBSSR Director, my primary goal was to promote and facilitate the inclusion of behavioral and social science research (BSSR) across the NIH. I worked to advance multiple areas BSSR-related topics that cut across the NIH institutes’ and centers’ (ICs) missions, but likely would not have a sufficiently large enough portfolio in each IC for optimal program development. I tried to focus on areas where OBSSR can step in and coordinate efforts between the ICs to maximize the scientific impact and to demonstrate the important role of BSSR in clarifying complex health-related questions.
During my three years as Director of OBSSR, the office had several notable achievements/accomplishments:
- One of our most important efforts that I helped lead was bringing together scientists to investigate the relationship between educational status and health, including researchers studying neuronal pathways and education in Alzheimer’s disease, and researchers investigating education and economic status and how these factors affected health status. This resulted in the NIH conference “Toward Higher Levels of Analysis: Progress and Promise in Research on Social and Cultural Dimensions of Health” which focused on building and employing social science research to improve the population’s health, and the OBSSR leading related funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) “Social and Cultural Dimensions of Health” that were issued in 2001, 2004, and 2006.
- Other OBSSR efforts revolved around training of BSS researchers and non-BSS researchers in BSSR. In July 2000, the OBSSR, in collaboration with the NHLBI, held the first annual Summer Institute on Randomized Behavioral Clinical Trials. The goal of the Summer institute was to train researchers and health professionals on how to conduct behavioral clinical trials to ensure that research on different treatments or interventions was done rigorously and impartially.
- Another goal of OBSSR is to improve methodology and measurement in BSSR. To encourage research that will improve the quality and scientific rigor of data collected in the behavioral and social sciences, OBSSR, in partnership with several other ICs, issued a FOA, “Methodology and Measurement in the Behavioral and Social Sciences”, which focused on developing and enhancing the quality and power of data in health-related behavioral and social sciences. This FOA was also reissued multiple times since its initial release.
- In cooperation with NIH Institutes and Centers and other agencies, OBSSR partnered on a number of workshop and census reports which were important in laying the framework for future BSSR opportunities at the NIH:
- 2000 Bridging Disciplines in the Brain, Behavioral and Clinical Sciences: consensus report. [NIMH, OBSSR, NINR, NIA]
- 2000 The Aging Mind: Opportunities in Cognitive Research. [NIH]
- 2000 Addressing the Nation's Changing Needs for Biomedical and Behavioral Scientists. [NIH]
- 2001 Health and Behavior: The Interplay of Biological, Behavioral, and Societal Influences. Consensus report. [OBSSR, NIMH, CDC, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation]
- 2001 New Horizons in Health: An Integrative Approach: consensus report. [OBSSR]
- 2002 Emerging Issues in Hispanic Health: Summary of a Workshop [OBSSR]
- 2004 Improving Medical Education: Enhancing the Behavioral and Social Science Content of Medical School Curricula. [OBSSR, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation]
For about a year of my tenure as the Director of OBSSR, I also served as the Acting Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The experience of leading an institute with a portfolio of research that cut across almost every biomedical, behavioral, and social science discipline helped me in my work as the Director of OBSSR, as well as my future NIH leadership roles. After OBSSR, I served in other leadership positions at NIH from 2003-2009 including serving as Principal Deputy Director of NIH and Acting Director of NIH.
After NIH, I was appointed President of Grinnell College in August 2010 and will end my tenure in the summer of 2020. In August, I will become the 16th Head of the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. In that role I look forward to advancing ways to expose top high school students to the full range of scientific disciplines.
The accomplishments during my tenure at OBSSR were possible due to committed behavioral and social science staff across the NIH. In my various leadership roles at the NIH, the extraordinary commitment of NIH staff to its mission was critical. I benefited tremendously from the opportunity to serve as OBSSR Director and know that it will continue to play an essential role in improving the health of the nation and the world.