Steven Woolf, MD, MPH

headshot of steve woolf

Home Institution: Virginia Commonwealth University

Field: Social Epidemiology

Current Positions:

My Driving Question

How do we increase awareness among policy makers and voters of the powerful links between social policies and health?

Scholar Project 

The Connecting the Dots initiative aims to raise awareness of the connections between health and social factors, such as education, income, neighborhood, and community. It targets policy makers and voters, whose actions shape these conditions but who rarely understand the full health consequences of their decisions.

Most academics who study health lack experience in the policy world and are poorly equipped to package and deliver messages in a way that is compelling and accessible to policy makers and voters. Dr. Woolf is developing a more effective approach to translating and delivering evidence by forging a collaboration between largely disconnected disciplines:

  • researchers who have mastered the scientific evidence linking social factors and health;
  • policy experts with intimate knowledge of key change agents and decision-makers and how to reach them;
  • communication experts with talent in developing messages and marketing attractive, engaging materials in various media; and
  • foundations with a willingness to support the collaboration over five years to test its effectiveness.

Dr. Woolf’s work as a Nova Institute Scholar aims to:

  • establish the collaboration;
  • demonstrate the ability to reach influential audiences;
  • plan for creative products and impactful venues;
  • collect data on awareness levels; and
  • elicit feedback and learn from target audiences how to provide more useful information.

Raising awareness about the social determinants of health is of urgency amid the current economic crisis, as our society struggles with major decisions affecting social factors, such as employment, education reform, and a fraying social safety net during a time that demands fiscal restraint.

Dr. Woolf’s project seeks to establish a new model for communicating scientific evidence to decision-makers. It will demonstrate the power of formal teamwork among scientists, communication experts, and policy advisors to help audiences understand the relevance of evidence on any health issue. Woolf and his team hypothesize that none of these groups acting alone can communicate as effectively as the product that emerges when these talents join hands.


Steven H. Woolf, MD, MPH, is Professor at the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. He received his medical degree in 1984 from Emory University and underwent residency training in family medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University. 

A clinical epidemiologist, Dr. Woolf was trained in preventive medicine and public health at Johns Hopkins University, where he received his Master of Public Health degree in 1987. He is board certified in family medicine and in preventive medicine and public health.

Dr. Woolf has published more than 150 articles in a career that has focused on evidence-based medicine and the development of evidence-based clinical practice guidelines, with a special emphasis on preventive medicine, cancer screening, quality improvement, and social justice.

From 1987 to 2002, he served as science advisor to and a member of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Dr. Woolf edited the first two editions of the Guide to Clinical Preventive Services and is author of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in Clinical Practice.

Elected to the Institute of Medicine in 2001, Dr. Woolf served as associate editor of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and as North American editor of the British Medical Journal. He has consulted widely on various matters of health policy with government agencies and professional organizations in the United States and Europe.

Education and Training
  • Residency, Family Medicine, Virginia Commonwealth University
  • MD, Emory University
  • MPH, Johns Hopkins University
  • BA, University of Missouri-St. Louis
Selected Honors
  • Chair, Panel on Understanding Cross-National Health Differences Among High-Income Countries, National Research Council and Institute of Medicine
  • Senior adviser and past member of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force
  • Elected to Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, 2001
  • Past North American editor of the British Medical Journal
  • Past associate editor of American Journal of Preventive Medicine
Selected Publications

Articles and Papers