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Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, former president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters during the Phase I ceremony of Tufts University's 162nd Commencement on Sunday, May 20, 2018. (Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)


You have been a trailblazer in both medicine and social equity. As leader of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, you spurred important initiatives to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic, improve access to health care, and help states implement the Affordable Care Act. You have brought both expertise and insight to efforts to promote access to health care. As a leading expert on the shaping and evaluation of health policy, your work has focused on quality of care, patient protection, and racial and ethnic disparities. You have inspired and guided students and researchers doing critical work in geriatric medicine, health care systems, and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, where you returned to serve as a University Professor. You have recalled that your grade-school teachers tried to discourage your aspiration to become a doctor. Instead, you responded by breaking down barriers in health care. For your work healing patients, communities, and systems, and for your fierce advocacy for those who are the most vulnerable, Tufts University awards you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa.


When RISA LAVIZZO-MOUREY was growing up in Seattle, Washington, her teachers didn’t think a career as a doctor was appropriate for her.

They were wrong. Lavizzo-Mourey not only went on to become a physician focused on geriatric medicine, but also the first African American and the first woman to head the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropic health care organization. For almost fifteen years, she led the foundation in a billion-dollar initiative to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic, built programs to improve access to health care, and provided research and other help to states implementing the Affordable Care Act.

Lavizzo-Mourey has also served at the federal Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, taught at the University of Pennsylvania, and been a regent of the American College of Physicians. She was named one of Forbes magazine’s 100 Most Powerful Women eight times and one of Modern Healthcare’s 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare nine times.

After receiving her undergraduate degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Lavizzo-Mourey earned an MD from Harvard Medical School and completed her internship and residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She also has an MBA in health care administration from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was named a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar.

Lavizzo-Mourey went on to serve as a professor and administrator at the University of Pennsylvania for fourteen years, holding positions including the Sylvan Eisman Professor of Medicine and Health Care Systems, director of Penn’s Institute on Aging, chief of the division of geriatric medicine, and associate executive vice president for health policy.

Lavizzo-Mourey then became deputy administrator of what is now the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality, co-chaired a working group on quality of care as part of the White House Health Care Reform Task Force, co-chaired a congressionally requested Institute of Medicine study on racial and ethnic disparities in health care, and served on federal advisory committees including the Task Force on Aging Research, the National Committee for Vital and Health Statistics, and the President’s Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry.

Joining the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2001, Lavizzo-Mourey became senior vice president and director for the Health Care Group, before being named president and CEO of the foundation in 2003. Determined to make health care accessible to everyone regardless of geography or socioeconomic status, Lavizzo-Mourey focused not just on childhood obesity and later the Affordable Care Act, but on addressing the social factors that affect health and encouraging government, business, and civic leaders to consider the public’s health in their decision-making.

Lavizzo-Mourey is now the PIK Professor of Health Policy and Health Equity at the University of Pennsylvania, with joint faculty appointments in the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy in the Perelman School of Medicine, the Department of Health Care Management in the Wharton School, and the Department of Family and Community Health in the School of Nursing. She is also a member of the Smithsonian Board of Regents.

Tufts will award Lavizzo-Mourey an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.