When the UW’s Dr. Frederick Rivara was presented with the Centers for Disease Control Injury Prevention and Control Health Impact Award last fall, he was recognized for his “exemplary leadership and contribution” to the field of injury prevention.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Rivara’s work at the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, where his study of the effectiveness of bicycle helmets — he proved the hypothesis that bicycle helmet use decreased significant head injuries by 85 percent — led to a community-based bicycle helmet campaign that has served as a model for similar programs across the nation and around the world.
This year, Rivara will receive the UW School of Public Health 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award during the School’s annual Awards Ceremony and Graduation Celebration on June 12.
Rivara, who earned an MPH from the School’s Department of Health Services in 1980, is currently the Seattle Children’s Guild Endowed Chair in Pediatrics , and the vice chair for academic affairs and head of the Division of General Pediatrics in the Department of Pediatrics. In addition, he is adjunct professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health, and editor of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, the oldest pediatric journal in the US.
“I am very grateful to the School of Public Health for honoring me in this way,” Rivara said, “and for the education I received here, which has been critically important to my career and my life.”
As an internationally recognized leader in the field of injury prevention and control, Rivara is devoted to improving the lives of children and adults. He has applied epidemiologic and qualitative research methods to the study of unintentional injuries (motor vehicle crashes, drowning, bicycle and pedestrian injuries), intentional injuries (suicide, homicide, intimate partner violence), and cross-cutting issues (alcohol-related trauma, cost-effectiveness of trauma care).
One of his most important achievements, he said, has been contributing to the scientific rigor of the field of injury control — using science to help understand what the injury problem is all about and to influence public policy to address the problem.
“The bike helmet project is a great example of how to take the information we discover out into the community,” Rivara explained, “and use it to promote helmet use and save lives. It’s about using science to influence public policy and what we do with our resources.”
Rivara said his interest in the field of injury prevention grew out of his clinical experiences — from his early work at the National Health Service Corps in Kentucky in the late 1970s, to his current work on the wards of Harborview Medical Center.
“Seeing trauma first-hand, I began to understand the issues involved — and that prevention was really key,” he said.
One of the biggest challenges facing his field today is the huge disparity in injury rates among children of different socioeconomic status, both in the United States and around the globe, Rivara said. Today, 95 percent of injury deaths to youths occur in the developing world.
“Poorer children have much higher injury rates than children who are economically better off,” he said. “The challenge in injury control — as in much of health care — is to remove those enormous disparities we see.”
A key element of Rivara’s success in his professional accomplishments and his nearly three decades of service at the University of Washington has been his ability to collaborate across academic disciplines and with policy-makers in government and non-governmental agencies at every level.
“I think one of the things I appreciate most about working in Seattle is the ability to collaborate across institutions. It makes the work we do much more effective,” he said.
Rivara has been honored as an educator, health researcher, clinician, journal editor, and child health advocate. In 1999, he received the Stanley Stamm Award for Best Role Model for Pediatric Housestaff. He was elected to the Institute of Medicine in 2005 and became an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in 2004. He received the Distinguished Career Award from the Injury Control and Emergency Health Services Section of APHA in 1995 and the Charles C. Shepard Science Award from the CDC in 1998.
He credits his education at the UW School of Public Health and what he learned about population health as an invaluable foundation for approaching today’s injury prevention challenges in a more population-based way.
“Figuring out how to take the knowledge we have and adopt it and implement it in other countries, especially in developing countries, is a big challenge,” Rivara said. “How do we take lessons learned and implement them more widely around world?”