The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) announced today its new class of elected members, naming Physicians for Human Rights’ (PHR) medical director Michele Heisler, MD, MPA as an inductee. Dr. Heisler was elected to the NAM for her pioneering research on the intersections of health, human rights, and health equity that has informed national and international programs and policies. She has designed and implemented effective peer, family, and community support programs in low-resource settings, elucidated health impacts of human rights violations, and successfully advocated for remedies.
A professor of internal medicine and of public health at the University of Michigan, Dr. Heisler has pursued a career focusing on understanding and improving health equity and human rights among vulnerable populations. Her active practice as a primary care physician has underpinned her more than two decades of developing, evaluating, and implementing innovative programs in safety net health systems to extend support beyond face-to-face clinic visits to address behavioral and social determinants of health.
Through clinical trials and implementation studies, she has demonstrated the effectiveness of diverse peer support models in which fellow patients, community members, and family members are trained to support patients to achieve sustained improvements in health and social wellbeing. She has also gained international recognition for her research documenting health consequences of human rights violations and her work conducting and promoting rigorous medico-legal evaluations of torture, violence, and discrimination against marginalized groups. Her research has informed operational programs as well as legislation in the United States and other countries.
“I have long revered the work of the National Academy of Medicine, and many of those I most respect in medicine and public health are among its members,” said Dr. Heisler. “It is such an honor to be part of this community and incredibly exciting to be able to participate actively as a member in the Academy’s many initiatives to generate rigorous research and discussion to inform improved policies and programs on issues I deeply care about.”
Dr. Heisler has authored more than 300 peer-reviewed studies in medical and public health journals. Some of her research published in 2022 alone has appeared in, among other high-impact journals, the American Journal of Public Health, New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, The Lancet Global Health, and JAMA Network Open.
Working with PHR since 1995, Dr. Heisler has conducted multiple field investigations and Istanbul Protocol-based medico-legal evaluations, as well as co-authored multiple PHR reports. In recent years, these have included investigations on deaths in U.S. police custody, the torture of health workers in Syria, the health impacts of crowd-control weapons, threats against clinicians during the COVID-19 pandemic, and health effects on asylum seekers expelled under Title 42.
“This extraordinary class of new members comprises exceptional scholars and leaders who have been at the forefront of responding to serious public health challenges, combating social inequities, and achieving innovative discoveries,” said National Academy of Medicine president Victor J. Dzau. “Their expertise will be vital to informing the future of health and medicine for the benefit of us all. I am truly honored to welcome these esteemed individuals to the National Academy of Medicine.”
Dr. Heisler joins PHR Board and Advisory Council members Dr. Robert Lawrence, Dr. Kathy Foley, Dr. Richard Horton, Dr. Salim S. Abdool Karim, and Dr. Chris Beyrer as a NAM member. New members are nominated and then elected by current members through a rigorous process assessing their accomplishments, body of work, and potential contributions to NAM’s mission. NAM membership reflects the height of professional achievement and commitment to service for professionals at the top of their field.
“It is my privilege to congratulate Dr. Heisler on this extraordinary professional achievement. Her contributions to our community at Physicians for Human Rights and the broader medical field embody our shared mission of improving health and human rights for all,” said Robert Lawrence, MD, co-founder of PHR, board member emeritus, and a NAM member. “She has a passion for health equity, placing service and action to address social inequities at the forefront of her work. The selection is tremendously deserved. Dr. Heisler began her partnership with PHR in the 1990’s as a medical student, and she continued contributing to PHR’s research over many years. From 2010, she served on PHR’s Board of Directors before becoming medical director in 2020. PHR is grateful for her decades of service, leadership, and dedication to our organization and the human rights movement.”
Dr. Heisler completed her residency training in internal medicine and health services research training as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar at the University of Michigan in 2002. She received her MD degree from Harvard University and her MPA degree from Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs. Before medical training, Dr. Heisler served as a program officer at the Ford Foundation for human rights and poverty programs in Latin America and the Caribbean.
PHR also congratulates Monica Elizabeth Peek, MD, MPH, MSc, Ellen H. Block Professor of Health Justice, department of medicine, University of Chicago, who serves on PHR’s Advisory Council, on her election to the 2022 class of NAM. Dr. Peek was elected “for international leadership in reducing health disparities, through research on how structural racism and the social determinants of health perpetuate disparities among African Americans. Her cutting-edge research has informed national guidelines and best practices regarding shared decision-making between patients and physicians and community-engaged strategies to improve health among African Americans.”
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.