Robert L. Ferrer, M.D., M.P.H., of UT Health San Antonio has been elected to the prestigious National Academy of Medicine, the academy announced Oct. 15. Dr. Ferrer, recognized for his work in community health, is the eighth faculty member in UT Health San Antonio history to attain this distinction.
“I’m honored and delighted to be elected to the National Academy of Medicine,” Dr. Ferrer said. “I look forward to the opportunity to contribute to national policy discussions with insights derived from work in primary care and public health in our San Antonio community. I owe a great deal to my many talented colleagues and the stimulating environment at UT Health San Antonio.”
Navigating practical opportunities to reach healthy goals
Dr. Ferrer is innovatively focusing on understanding and measuring practical opportunities for healthy behaviors to improve health and well-being in vulnerable populations. Although addressing health behaviors is recognized to be an important function in primary care, physicians and teams report only modest success in improving diet and physical activity among their at-risk patients.
He applies an analytical framework that explores the practical opportunities (capabilities) people have at their disposal to achieve the goals they value.
“Primarily, interventions have focused on increasing individuals’ knowledge, motivation and self-efficacy,” Dr. Ferrer said in a paper published in the Annals of Family Medicine in 2014. “Much evidence shows, however, that success will be limited if social and environmental contexts are not accounted for … The challenge is to understand how to help a specific patient succeed in a specific environment.”
Identifying which patients have the most obstacles
Dr. Ferrer and his colleagues began to tackle the issue by offering measurement tools to help practices determine which patients have limited opportunities for healthy living. These tools include questionnaire items about patients’ resources (such as “easy to get to food store”) and about conversion factors to healthy behaviors (such as “friends encourage regular physical activity”).
“This framework evaluates people’s real freedoms to pursue their values,” Dr. Ferrer said. “Our results suggest that practical opportunities for healthy diet and physical activity can be measured as a primary target for clinical and public health assessment, with the potential to help align multilevel interventions and close the gap between intention and achievement in helping our patients.”
The National Academy of Medicine serves alongside the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering as an independent adviser to the nation and the international community. Membership in the National Academy of Medicine is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine and recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievements and commitment to service.
Service to patients and the city and county
Dr. Ferrer is a practicing family physician in UT Health San Antonio’s Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine. His research interests are at the interface of primary care and public health, including primary care transformation and quality improvement, and social determinants of health. He has been principal investigator on grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, as well as other state and local funders.
Dr. Ferrer is active in community health initiatives, serving as chair of the leadership team for San Antonio’s Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He is also a board member of the Bexar County Health Collaborative, serving as board chair for 2016 and 2017.
“We are very proud of this recognition,” said Carlos Roberto Jaén, M.D., Ph.D., FAAFP, professor and chairman of the Department of Family and Community Medicine in the Long School of Medicine. “Dr. Ferrer, through partnership with multiple community groups, models for us the healing and empowering functions of primary health care bringing together family medicine and public health. He is an excellent personal physician and a grounded leader in community health at the School of Medicine.”
Dr. Ferrer also leads the community engagement team of the Institute for Integration of Medicine and Science, which administers the South Texas Clinical and Translational Science Award granted by the National Institutes of Health to UT Health San Antonio and multiple partners.
In addition to Dr. Ferrer, UT Health San Antonio current and past faculty in the National Academy of Medicine are Bettie Sue Masters, Ph.D., elected in 1996; Fernando Guerra, M.D., M.P.H., elected in 2001; Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., and Francisco González-Scarano, M.D., elected in 2006; Amelie G. Ramirez, Dr.P.H., and Cynthia Mulrow, M.D., elected in 2007; and Dr. Jaén, elected in 2013.
The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, now called UT Health San Antonio®, is one of the country’s leading health sciences universities. With missions of teaching, research, healing and community engagement, its schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced 35,850 alumni who are leading change, advancing their fields and renewing hope for patients and their families throughout South Texas and the world. To learn about the many ways “We make lives better®,” visit www.uthscsa.edu.