Nancy Whitelaw, PhD

Our heartiest congratulations to Dr. Nancy Whitelaw, PhD, for winning the 2009 Elizabeth Fries Health Education Award! Each year, the James F. and Sarah T. Fries Foundation presents the $25K prize to a health educator who has made a substantial contribution to advancing the field of health education or health promotion through research, program development, or program delivery. Dr. Whitelaw accepted this year’s award at the annual Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE) meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, November 5-7.

Dr. Whitelaw’s work epitomizes the ideals of the Fries award in tying together research, program development, and program delivery. As creator and director of the Center for Healthy Aging at the National Council on Aging (NCOA), where she also serves as a senior vice president, Dr. Whitelaw has worked tirelessly to advance her vision of widespread implementation of evidence-based programs that improve the health of older adults. She has given thousands of professionals the tools they need to appreciate the importance of scientific evidence for health promotion programs.  She has also worked with many of the nation’s leading health researchers to translate their programs into feasible, “real world” adaptations that retain their effectiveness. Her efforts resulted in the “Evidence Based Prevention Program” written into the Older Americans Act under the “Choices for Independence” title of that legislation.

Earlier in her career, Dr. Whitelaw worked in Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System, helping it adapt to the complex health issues facing older adults and individuals with chronic illness.  Based on her experiences, she subsequently prepared a pivotal paper on the nature of collaborative care for older people.  In this paper, she developed the concept of the virtual health care team, which included both the patient and community-based services. These concepts proved extremely influential in both the development of subsequent Hartford Foundation demonstrations and her work to advance health promotion and prevention through the “aging network” of community agencies.

I have had the privilege of being Dr. Whitelaw’s program officer on three major grants from two separate foundations (for $1.9, $5, and $3 million) since 1999, and each time, I have been awed at the impact she has created. Few careers have made so deep an impact upon national policy and the shape of services for citizens.