John Ruffin, who has headed minority health efforts at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for 24 years, is stepping down as director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). Ruffin will retire from federal service at the end of this month, he wrote yesterday in a message on NIMHD’s website.
Ruffin is a developmental biologist who joined NIH in 1990 to head a new Office of Minority Programs. Ten years later, when Congress created a National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities to study problems such as higher rates of certain cancers in African-Americans, Ruffin became director. In 2010, Congress elevated the center to an institute. In addition to funding health disparities research and minority training programs, NIMHD also coordinates minority health research across NIH. With a $268 million budget, it is among the smaller of NIH’s 27 institutes and centers.
“It has been an incredible journey,” Ruffin wrote in his message to the NIMHD community. “The time has now come for new vision, leadership, passion and commitment to sustain what you have created through the NIMHD, and to chart the course for the next chapter towards the elimination of health disparities.”
In a statement, NIH Director Francis Collins commended Ruffin for his “extraordinary service” and called him “a tireless champion” who “has done everything in his power to bring attention to and find solutions for the unequal burden of illness affecting minority, rural, and poor populations in this country.” He highlighted Ruffin’s efforts to train more than 3000 health professionals and organize research summits on health disparities.
Faye Gary, a professor of nursing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and former chair of NIMHD’s advisory council, praised Ruffin for promoting the idea that health disparities involve social and environmental factors in addition to genetics and biology. She also commended his political skills. “He is really the torchbearer for bringing health disparities and health equity to the national agenda,” Gary says.