Letter to HELP Committee supporting Francis S. Collins as Director of the NIH

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August 3, 2009

Edward M. Kennedy
Chair
Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions
317 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Kennedy:

On behalf of the 150,000 members of the National Association of Social Workers, I am writing in support of the confirmation of Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, as Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Founded in 1955, NASW is the largest membership organization of social workers and seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families and communities through its work and advocacy.

Professional social workers have an important and growing presence at NIH.  This is not only through the provision of clinical services, but also due to a portfolio of research grants on psychosocial care, health disparities, family caregiving, and innovative, community-based health, mental health, and substance abuse intervention.

Dr. Collins’ lengthy career has focused on revolutionizing our collective understanding of disease genes and the human genome map. Thanks to this work, social workers and a wide range of other medical care providers are able to better understand the personalized nature of illnesses.    Dr. Collins’ work shines a light on the entire spectrum of human conditions, and the need to more fully address the interactions of genes, behavior and the environment.

Dr. Collins’ work has a direct and invaluable impact for our society.  In addition to his long list of contributions to basic genetic research and scientific leadership, Dr. Collins is known for his close attention to ethical and legal issues in research. He has been a strong advocate for protecting the privacy of genetic information and has served as a national leader in efforts to prohibit gene-based insurance discrimination.

We know that understanding genetics is one key to the research work of NIH, because of the way such research changes how disease will be addressed.  For example, in the case of schizophrenia,  this understanding can lead to new possibilities for cure or disease management, but may also  create dilemmas stemming from earlier awareness that a person will develop a disease.  All of these factors have psychosocial dimensions that will benefit from the knowledge, skills and practice of social work.

Dr. Collins leadership and management skills, broad-based scientific knowledge, his understanding of the linkages between research and clinical services, including social work services, his long-standing engagement with the research and advocacy community make him an excellent choice to lead NIH at this time of attention to translational research and personalized medicine.

NASW looks forward to working with Dr. Collins to continue to address the critical issues of health disparities and the elimination of diseases through behavioral change and addressing social and environmental conditions.  Because Dr. Collins understands the field of social work’s contribution to health and well-being, and his commitment to enhancing the health of Americans everywhere, it gives me great pleasure to support Dr. Collin’s nomination and I ask for his confirmation. Thank you for your consideration.

Yours truly,

Elizabeth J. Clark, PhD, ACSW, MPH
Executive Director

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