Drs. James M. and Claudia U. Richter created a critically important opportunity for both faculty and students with their 2019 gift, which funded three endowments at LBJ to support work in health policy.
Public policy encompasses so many different realms and disciplines, but what unites both practitioners and students is the desire to solve problems and to change the world. Since its founding, the LBJ School has drawn students, faculty, experts and donors with a passion making things better for people everywhere, and a vision that extends the breadth and depth of our impact.
The 2019 gift of Drs. James M. and Claudia U. Richter created three endowments: The James M. and Claudia U. Richter Chair in Global Health Policy, the James M. and Claudia U. Richter Endowed Excellence Fund in Health Policy, and the James M. and Claudia U. Richter Graduate Fellowship. Given the constantly changing landscape of health policy since then, which has included the COVID-19 pandemic, debates about the mechanics of health coverage and seismic changes in areas including reproductive health policy, their gift is especially timely — and it puts LBJ in a position to advance both research and thought leadership in these areas.
The Richter Chair helps to advance the work of Dr. Abigail Aiken, an associate professor of public affairs and a leading researcher on reproductive health policy, particularly self-managed medical abortions. "The generous support of the Richter Chair enabled me to do the preliminary research and grant writing required to springboard into Project SANA (The Self-Managed Abortion Needs Assessment Project)," she said. "[It's] a four-year research study examining the who, what, and why of self-managed abortion in the United States."
The Richters took some time to talk with the LBJ School about their gift and the relationship between medical practice and public policy.
Q: In 2019, you established three endowments at the LBJ School of Public Affairs: the James M. and Claudia U. Richter Chair in Global Health Policy; the James M. and Claudia U. Richter Endowed Excellence Fund in Health Policy; and the James M. and Claudia U. Richter Graduate Fellowship. What about the LBJ School convinced you it was the right home for your generous gift?
Drs. James and Claudia Richter: The University of Texas at Austin provided a transformative growth and educational experience for both of us and many members of our family. We both became physicians and benefitted by our fundamental of science and liberal arts and after medical school came to appreciate the fundamental role of health policy in our daily work.
Q: The LBJ School partnered with Dell Medical School to offer a dual degree in public affairs and medicine, beginning this academic year, focusing on training "future physician leaders." As doctors, what are your thoughts on the intersection of medicine and policy? What has inspired you to support health policy research?
Drs. James and Claudia Richter: Health care is now both a personal relationship and a complex organizational and technological process. As health care becomes more complex and expensive, physicians need a wider array of skills to understand the issues, advocate for key programs and improve the health of people in their communities.
"Health care is now both a personal relationship and a complex organizational and technological process. As health care becomes more complex and expensive, physicians need a wider array of skills to understand the issues, advocate for key programs and improve the health of people in their communities."
—Drs. James and Claudia Richter
Q: What areas of global health policy are particularly interesting to you?
Drs. James and Claudia Richter: Americans and most Texans benefit from ready access to relatively high-quality health care. Most of the world does not share this privilege, but many do and organize care differently. There are countries where we can help and others from whom we can learn. Gross National Happiness is a measurement of the collective happiness which was developed in 1972 by Bhutan's fourth Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, and emphasizes a broad array of programs and principles fundamental to health. Bhutan has a free national health service that is highly regarded by their citizens with a life expectancy among the highest in south Asia at a per capita cost of less than 10% of ours. We have had the privilege to visit and consult there.
Q: Your endowment helps to fund research by Dr. Aiken, who studies reproductive health and access to care, and by extension helps to make possible public conversations like the recent event focused on policy in Texas, convened by LBJ and Dell Med. This research and these conversations are obviously timely and relevant to the medical and policy communities. What do you find most compelling about this scholarship?
Drs. James and Claudia Richter: There are at least two dimensions of her work that are notable.
First, her research describes a safe effective medical alternative means of reproductive choice.
Second, that it draws attention to public discussion about the fundamental right to control one's body.
Q: How do you feel an understanding of policy can impact medical care, both at a broad and a patient-care level?
Drs. James and Claudia Richter: There are fundamental, social determinants of health that have a major impact on health which extend beyond the individual physicians ability to personally remedy. Safe housing and neighborhoods, freedom from discrimination and violence, education and income, nutritious foods and clean water, and literacy skills require leadership and effective public policy to improve. Cardiac and cancer patients without food and shelter are very difficult to treat effectively.
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