NIMHD appoints Dr. Monica Webb Hooper, a leader in minority health and cancer health disparities research, as Deputy Director

Dr. Monica Hooper
Dr. Monica Webb Hooper

Monica Webb Hooper, Ph.D., has been selected as Deputy Director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, part of the National Institutes of Health. She will begin her appointment on March 15.

“I am delighted to welcome Dr. Webb Hooper to the NIMHD family! She will support the leadership in implementing the science visioning recommendations to improve minority health, reduce health disparities and promote health equity,” said NIMHD Director Dr. Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable.

Dr. Webb Hooper joins NIMHD as the institute celebrates its 10th anniversary. She will be part of the leadership and work closely with Dr. Pérez-Stable on all aspects of the Institute. “I cannot express in words my elation to have the opportunity to work closely with Dr. Pérez-Stable and his leadership team to contribute to NIMHD’s mission and vision,” said Dr. Webb Hooper. “I am deeply committed to the study of minority health and to the ultimate elimination of health disparities. It will be a great privilege to serve NIMHD as the deputy director and to be a part of the NIH community.”

Dr. Webb Hooper is a leader in minority health and cancer-related health disparities research. Her work spans multiple populations experiencing health disparities, including African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, persons of less socioeconomic privilege, and people living with HIV/AIDS. She comes to NIH from the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University, where she was professor of oncology, family medicine and community health, and psychological sciences. She also served as Associate Director for Cancer Disparities Research and Director of the Office of Cancer Disparities Research at the NCI-designated Case Comprehensive Cancer Center. As a licensed clinical health psychologist, she led an active research lab focused on chronic disease prevention, health behavior change, tobacco use, weight management and obesity, stress processes, biobehavioral interventions, and social determinants of health.

Notably, Dr. Webb Hooper’s group was the first to conduct a randomized intervention study of tobacco use in African Americans that effectively delineated a method to create culturally specific interventions with demonstrated long-term success. Her work highlights the importance of moving beyond one-size-fits-all approaches, particularly for behavioral interventions involving populations experiencing health disparities.

Dr. Webb Hooper is the recipient of numerous NIH and foundation grants. She has also received several honors and awards for her work, including international recognition from the Society of Research on Nicotine and Tobacco. A native of Miami, FL, Dr. Webb Hooper has authored more than 80 peer reviewed publications and book chapters. She earned her undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Miami, her Ph.D. in clinical health psychology from the University of South Florida, and she completed an internship in medical psychology at the University of Florida Health Sciences Center.

Dr. Webb Hooper looks forward to transitioning to the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area with her husband and three children.

Q and A with Dr. Monica Webb Hooper, NIMHD Deputy Director

Dr. Webb Hooper shares her perspectives on today’s leading topics in minority health and health disparities through the Q and A below.

What led you to a career in clinical health psychology?

I was drawn to the field of clinical health psychology because I always had a strong appreciation for mind-body relationships and the dual influence of mental health on physical health and vice versa. Clinical health psychology and behavioral medicine provided an opportunity for me to study that intersection and to work with populations that experience, or are at risk for, medical problems – as well as to understand how psychological status might influence health. I found this very exciting.

This opportunity exceeds my dreams at this point in my career. This is an amazing step for me and I’m so humbled to serve NIMHD, NIH, and the larger community in this capacity.

I’m excited about the opportunity to join Dr. Pérez-Stable, the leadership, the staff, and everyone who contributes daily to the mission and vision of NIMHD. I’m deeply committed to ensuring that – as we move into this next decade – the strategic plan of the institute is brought to life, and that I can help have an impact at the national level in the reduction of health disparities across populations that experience them. I’m also looking forward to contributing to an agenda for science that not only identifies disparities, but really moves the needle toward reducing them; eventually the goal, of course, is elimination.

I have always been a big fan of the D.C. metro area. My first choice for college was Howard University in part because it’s a fantastic school, but also because I liked the air and energy in the D.C. area. I’m excited to bring my family and have an opportunity to live in a community where there is so much history and culture. I’ve told my kids that they’d get to live near the White House. We love the Smithsonian museums – so the opportunity to visit with my family on the weekends is going to be great!

Diversity in the biomedical sciences, health care settings, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) fields is hugely important. People talk a lot about the importance of diversity, and how it is important to have people who represent various populations present in a particular setting. Yet, I think inclusion is perhaps more important than diversity – and this sometimes gets less attention. It’s about not only being at the dinner, but being able to sit at the table, have a voice, and be a part of the conversation. I’ve always been committed to this in my work and my team-efforts. Everything that I lead is truly inclusive. In my opinion, we not only need to increase the numbers of underrepresented scientists and physicians, we also need to make sure those settings are equitable and inclusive.

For true health equity to be possible, everyone must have the best opportunity for the highest standard of health without distinction for any of the social variables that divide people. To get to equity, we have to close the gaps, which are the disparities. So, when we succeed in closing those gaps in a way that moves all groups forward and improves health status for all, that’s when we will achieve health equity. Doing this will require efforts to examine deficiencies in current policies and practices, and to provide opportunities and access to those who have not had them. Equity is not about favoritism, however. It is about correcting social injustices, past and present, to close the gaps and level the playing field. I think it’s attainable, and that is why I do this work. That is why I’m in this field and so passionate about it. I believe we can get there. We just have to stay focused on it.

I think about training the next cadre of prolific scientists who really are invested in improving population health, community health, and global health. I think about the importance of mentorship in creating opportunities for young scientists to develop professionally, to be successful in acquiring grants and publishing articles, and in helping them build their careers in such a way that community benefit can be realized.

I think with women in science fields, just as with other groups that have been socially disadvantaged, it’s always important that we have diverse voices in the work that is happening. Women offer so much energy and strength. Perceptions about women as successful scientists has been improving steadily. We still have a ways to go when you think about equitable pay for the same work and similar challenges. Overall, we’ve made some strides. It is also important to think about intersectionality; for example, the interaction between being a woman and being a woman of color. Those are two different scenarios and they lead to two different experiences. We must think about how we can continue to improve the experience for women in science overall, keeping in mind that not all women have the same challenges.

I remember, as a graduate student, I was invited to a workshop for underrepresented minority students. Being a part of the group was a turning point. I was one of the younger students there, and I was moved and inspired by what I learned about the commitment to the fields of minority health and health disparities. I had the pleasure of meeting NIMHD’s first director Dr. John Ruffin, and as a graduate student, the experience at the workshop was an inspirational moment for me. I was with other underrepresented scientists, and it showed me what was possible for me and for the community.

Page updated Jan. 12, 2024