We sat down with Dr. David Rehkopf in November 2021 and asked him a couple of questions about his current research on reducing social inequities in health, his love of teaching, and more.
Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself? How did you get here (to Stanford Epidemiology & Population Health)? Was there something in particular that attracted you to the fields of science, public health and your area(s) of study?
I started out working as a molecular biologist studying malaria, but while doing this work I became increasingly interested in how to understand the social inequalities I saw around me in my daily life growing up in Seattle. I took a few biostatistics courses while working in the lab and was immediately hooked on a data-based approach to understanding patterns in the world. I wanted to know whether the stories I heard had important similarities to the stories of millions of other people. I was inspired by a lot of the work in social epidemiology and was fortunate to learn from amazing mentors in that area in order to try and make useful contributions to reducing social inequalities in health. I came to Stanford because of the colleagues in the School of Medicine, along with the excellent opportunities here to work with social science collaborators across campus and to have support for applying the most innovative statistical approaches to understanding the impacts of social determinants of health.
Can you please give us an overview of your research? What multiple fields/ areas do you work in, and what is/are the important problem/s you are working to solve?
I’m really interested in figuring out what actions we should take that would have the greatest impact on reducing social inequalities in health. I think there is the least information, and the most promise, in social policy and business practice changes to improve health — but we need a lot of guidance from research on what to do and how to do it. My work is equally informed by epidemiology, biostatistics, biology, sociology and economics.
Is there a class you love to teach (and why)?
I teach two seminar courses, Social Epidemiology and Life Course Epidemiology, and enjoy them both. The courses typically include people from a wide variety of disciplinary backgrounds which really adds to the productivity of the discussions. It is great to have folks who have lots of experience in the course content area together with people for whom it is an entirely new content area. The engaged questions that folks from different backgrounds have really drives the value of the courses for me, and hopefully the students as well.
Where can students learn more about you and your work (and perhaps research opportunities)?
Send me an email (email@example.com). I enjoy being able to talk with anyone who has an interest in working to eliminate social inequalities in health, whatever their approach is to get there, and helping them find their own path to having an impact.
What activities fill your time outside of work?
My best days are when I balance my academic work with spending time in the natural world and time with my family.