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Health Equity Physician-Researcher Named Chair of University of Utah Department of Family & Preventive Medicine


(SALT LAKE CITY)—A prominent physician-researcher who has focused on improving the health of underserved and refugee populations and eliminating health disparities has been tapped to chair the University of Utah School of Medicine's Department of Family and Preventive Medicine.

Kolawole S. Okuyemi, M.D., MPH, will assume his new role effective March 20.

Okuyemi holds the Endowed Chair for Health Disparities Research at the University of Minnesota, where he is a professor of family medicine and community health and works extensively with the state's urban immigrant and refugee communities. He additionally serves as the director of Cancer Health Disparities for the Masonic Cancer Center, a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, and as the principal investigator and director of the NCI-funded Minnesota Center for Cancer Collaborations.

At U of M, Okuyemi leads an interdisciplinary team of 11 core and more than 40 affiliated faculty conducting mostly federally funded research in areas including nicotine dependence/smoking cessation, nutrition/obesity, kidney diseases, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, pharmacokinetics, neuroimaging, health services research, patient-provider relationships, cancer prevention, and community-based participatory research. Over the past decade, this group of faculty has secured more than $65 million in research funding from the National Institutes of Health and other local and national agencies and foundations.

Okuyemi himself has been a principal investigator or co-investigator on numerous NIH research grants aimed at reducing cancer-related health disparities among African Americans, African Immigrants, and homeless populations. Dedicated to mentoring, Okuyemi was one of five principal investigators awarded a $22 million NIH grant to establish the National Research Mentoring Network, a nationwide consortium of biomedical professionals and institutions to provide all trainees across the biomedical, behavioral, clinical and social sciences with evidence-based mentorship and professional development programming. NRMN's program models emphasize the benefits and challenges of diversity, inclusivity and culture within mentoring relationships, and more broadly the research workforce.

After earning his medical degree from the University of Ilorin in Nigeria, Okuyemi completed his family medicine residency and Master of Public Health at the University of Kansas Medical Center and his public health research fellowship at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Okuyemi's expertise stands to have a significant impact in Utah, home to more than 235,000 immigrants according to 2013 U.S. Census Bureau data. The state's refugee population stands at nearly 60,000 with approximately 1,200 refugees resettling in Utah each year.

"I am confident Dr. Okuyemi's experience building successful inter-professional teams, his passion for mentoring and training, and his extensive clinical knowledge will propel the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine to new levels of achievement," said University of Utah Health Sciences Senior Vice President Vivian Lee, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A. "His ongoing work stands to not only make a significant impact at the U, but among Utah's burgeoning underserved and refugee communities as we partner with them for lifelong health."

Okuyemi said he "looks forward to leading the multidisciplinary department's clinical, educational, and research missions, and working with Utahns to ensure the attainment of the highest level of health for all."