John Ruffin, Ph.D. Retired Director of the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities


John Ruffin, PhD, recently retired from federal service as the founding director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). In this capacity, he oversaw the NIMHD budget of approximately $276 million, and provided leadership for the NIH minority health and health disparities research activities which constituted an annual budget of approximately $2.8 billion.

He is a well-respected leader and visionary in the field of minority health and health disparities. As an academician and a scientist, he has devoted his professional career to improving the health status of racial and ethnic minorities and other underserved populations. He has an impressive track record of developing and supporting programs to increase the cadre of minority scientists, physicians, and other health professionals, as well as attract a diverse group of researchers to the health disparities field. 

Dr. Ruffin earned a B.S. in Biology from Dillard University, a M.S. in Biology from Atlanta University, a Ph.D. in Systematic and Developmental Biology from Kansas State University, and completed post-doctoral studies in biology at Harvard University. His track record of dedication to leadership and career advancement for individuals from racial and ethnic minority populations was nurtured through his experience as instructor of biology at Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Assistant Professor of Biology at Atlanta University; Associate Professor of Biology at Alabama A&M University, Huntsville, Alabama; Cabot Teaching Fellow at Harvard University; and Professor Biology, Chair of the Department of Biology, and Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at North Carolina Central University. 

The hallmark of his career has been his success in institutionalizing minority health and health disparities research within the organizational structure of the NIH. Ultimately, this resulted in the creation of a health disparities research enterprise with global reach. His leadership consequently transformed the national discourse around minority health and health disparities, resulting in health disparities research becoming a recognized scientific discipline.

In 1990, he joined the NIH as Associate Director for Minority Programs. This would lead him to take a remarkable journey over 24 years, in transforming the national landscape for minority health and health disparities in the United States of America. With congressional support he guided the transition of the OMP to become the Office of Research on Minority Health (ORMH) in 1993, a legislatively-created entity that placed emphasis on research to address minority health. 

Dr. Ruffin continued his quest to raise awareness about health disparities and advance the minority health research agenda, which led to the creation of the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD) in 2000 with the enactment of the Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education Act. Through his leadership, the Center became an Institute at the NIH in 2010 as a result of the Affordable Care Act. 

Under his leadership, NIMHD established a robust research portfolio that integrates multiple disciplines and offers opportunities for once marginalized groups and communities to be a part of the research process and the elimination of health disparities. The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) has been leading the way in facilitating cross-agency collaboration among federal government agencies and private partnerships to integrate science, policy, practice and community efforts toward eliminating health disparities, with emphasis on the social determinants of health. 

His stellar record of professional achievement includes nine honorary doctor of science degrees from Spelman College, Tuskegee University, University of Massachusetts in Boston, North Carolina State University, Morehouse School of Medicine, Meharry Medical College, Tulane University, Dillard University and Medgar Evers College. He is a recipient of the Cura Personalis Award from Georgetown University Medical Center. He has been recognized by various professional, non-profit, and advocacy organizations. He has also received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy Award for National Service, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Special Recognition Award; and the U.S. Presidential Merit Award. 

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