Harold S. Luft, PhD Faculty Associate Director to leave RWJ UCSF-UCB Joint Program


UCSF - UCB RWJ HSS Graduation Luncheon June 2008

Scholars Belinda Needham and Ryan A. Brown, Co-Director Dr. Nancy Adler, Dr. Harold S. Luft, Co-Director Dr. Ray Catalano, Scholar David Rehkopf

June 2008

As many of you know, after 30 years at UCSF, I am leaving to become Director of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute (PAMFRI). My colleagues at the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies and elsewhere at UCSF have been wonderful and I will continue work with them. In fact, we are currently preparing new collaborative proposals. What I will miss most is the ongoing involvement with large and vibrant post-doctoral programs. (We will, however, be sponsoring some fellows at PAMFRI.)

During our introductory meetings in the HSS program, fellows typically introduce themselves as first-year, second-year and occasionally, third year. This year I’m a 35th year fellow, being continuously involved in post-doc training programs since starting as a post-doc in 1973. Seeing myself as a fellow is not a joke—I try to learn as much in seminars and one-on-one mentoring as do the “first-years.” Indeed, it is learning from and working with the extraordinarily broad range of post-docs at UCSF that prevents the faculty job from ever being boring.

What I look for—and the fellows rarely fail to deliver—is the “aha” experience of seeing an old problem in a new way. For me, this comes most frequently when engaging with someone whose training or experience is markedly different than mine. We researchers conventionally identify ourselves by discipline, forgetting that discipline implies adherence to certain rules and ways of doing things. Discipline is important in reaching certain goals, but there are often multiple pathways that can be taken to reach a goal. Moreover, although not all agree on the goals, disciplines sometimes blend goals and assumptions in subtle ways so it is sometimes never even asked whether a specific goal is the one that should be prioritized.

Along with excellent data and a supportive environment, PAMFRI offers the opportunity to work with clinicians in a high quality delivery system striving to continually improve itself. What they see as problems and challenges, I see as research opportunities with potentially generalizeable lessons. There will be many ways to structure research; the feedback from people who may implement the findings will be extraordinarily valuable, providing a reality test lacking when projects are just reviewed by research peers. Most of our work will be investigator-initiated, but at this stage in my career I want to shorten the path from study design to really making a difference. My hope is that PAMFRI will continue to grow, add opportunities for new investigators, and change the way we as a community use research to help people.


Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute (PAMFRI)

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