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From the Editor

Urban Health: An Important Issue for Academic Health Centers

Whitcomb, Michael E. MD

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A little over a year ago, Alan Fleischman, then senior vice president for academic affairs at The New York Academy of Medicine, offered to pull together a collection of papers addressing urban health issues for publication in the journal. I jumped at the opportunity, since I thought the topic deserved the attention of the academic medicine community.

Some of our readers may wonder why the leadership of the Academy was so instrumental in producing this theme issue, and in finding key experts in urban health issues as contributors. Since many in the academic medicine community are not fully aware of the Academy's distinguished record of accomplishment, a few words about the Academy are in order.

The New York Academy of Medicine was founded in 1847, the same year as the American Medical Association, to improve the education of doctors in this country. Over the years, it has conducted a wide range of programs for that purpose. It currently offers an extraordinarily large number of continuing education programs for practicing physicians in the New York City metropolitan area and hosts a variety of conferences focusing on important national issues. The Academy also maintains one of the world's largest privately owned medical libraries, which contains more than 50,000 rare and important books, manuscripts, archives, and artifacts, some dating back to 1700 b.c.e.

But more to the point, the Academy has evolved in recent years to be one of the country's most important medical “think tanks.” It is dedicated to enhancing the health of the public through research, education, policy analysis, and advocacy, with a particular focus on disadvantaged urban populations. The academy's staff—more than 100 advanced-degree professionals—investigate how the physical and social aspects of urban living influence city residents’ health, formulate the public health interventions needed to improve urban health, and regularly publish articles in respected peer-reviewed journals.

As noted above, I believe that the academic medicine community needs to be more aware of the new approaches to urban health issues presented by the articles appearing this month. I am not alone in taking this view. In its recent report, the Institute of Medicine Committee on the Roles of Academic Heath Centers in the 21st Century emphasized how important it is for academic health centers to focus more of their attention on promoting the health of populations, particularly those in the communities where centers are located. Since most of these communities are central cities, the urban health issues addressed in this month's journal should be of interest to the leaders of academic health centers. Thus, I am particularly pleased that Alan saw the value of creating a theme issue on urban health for the readers of Academic Medicine.

Michael E. Whitcomb, MD


© 2004 Association of American Medical Colleges