Collins Lauded As NIH Director

Francis S. CollinsNASW is looking forward to working with social work supporter Francis S. Collins, the newly appointed director of the National Institutes of Health.

According to NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark, social workers have an important and growing role at NIH through clinical social services and research grants on psychosocial care, health disparities, family caregiving and innovative, community-based health, mental health and substance abuse intervention.

The Senate on Aug. 7 unanimously confirmed Collins to lead the NIH, the nation's premier biomedical research agency. Prior to the confirmation, NASW sent lawmakers a letter of support for Collins.

In the letter, Clark noted that Collins' career has revolutionized the collective understanding of disease genes and the human genome map.

"Thanks to his work, social workers and a wide range of other medical care providers are able to better understand the personalized nature of illnesses," Clark wrote. "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."

The letter pointed out that 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," it noted.

"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," it added.

Clark also sent a congratulatory letter to Collins upon news of his confirmation.

"We have been pleased to work with you on a number of occasions regarding issues of mutual importance," she told Collins.

Clark noted that Collins was the keynote speaker at the 2004 NASW Foundation Gala. At the event, he discussed ways that social workers and all health care providers must become "genetically literate" to effectively respond to advances in genetics science. He said at the time that NASW's practice standards on genetics are a key step in integrating genetics in social work practice.

NASW has a history of advocating for genetic fairness. The association as well as Collins supported the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act that was signed into law in 2008. The law protects a person from the fear of being discriminated against once his or her genetic makeup is known, said Asua Ofosu, senior government relations associate at NASW.

NASW believes Collins will continue to address the critical issues of health disparities and the elimination of diseases through behavioral change and by addressing social and environmental conditions, Clark said.

"We are very interested in the work of NIH because social workers play important roles in the delivery of clinical services, as researchers and as staff in numerous positions across institutes and centers," Clark said.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a news release that Collins is an ideal choice to lead the NIH.

"As a scientist, physician, and passionate visionary, Dr. Collins will further NIH's ultimate mission to improve human health," she said.

Collins said in a statement issued on the day of his confirmation that he is "truly honored and humbled to take the helm today of the world's leading organization supporting biomedical research."

In 2007, Clark, on behalf of NASW, sent a letter urging lawmakers to award Collins the Congressional Gold Medal.

"Collins' work shines a light on the entire spectrum of human condition, and for the first time in history, all conditions are on an even playing field," that letter stated.