Movers & Shakers

James Collins, MD, MPH
Division of Neonatology, Children’s Memorial Hospital
Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine, Northwestern University
Chairman Secretary's Advisory Committee on Infant Mortality (SACIM)

Q: Tell AMCHP a little about yourself.
I grew up in Detroit and spent eight years at the University of Michigan. Currently, I am medical director of the neonatal intensive care unit and associate director of the pediatric residency program at Children’s Memorial Hospitals. I am also a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

My wife works as neonatal nurse (at a different hospital than me) and we have three sons (ages 18, 16, and 12) and a 7-year-old daughter.

Q: We would love for our members to know more about the role of the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Infant Mortality, could you give us some details about this Committee?
SACIM’s role is to advise the Secretary of Health on all matters relevant to infant mortality. 

Q: What is your individual role as a member?
My tenure on the committee recently ended. I was appointed to the committee in 2000 and became chairperson in 2004.

Q: To date, could you give us an example of progress that the SACIM has made to implement the Healthy People 2010 objectives for infant mortality?
As an advisory it’s very hard to link our recommendations to policy. However, SACIM recommended the following:
1) Formation of an inter-agency council to address low birth weight rates;
2) Surgeon General’s conference on birth outcomes;
3) Expanded fiscal support of Healthy Start; and
4) Expanded support of research into the social determinants of the racial disparity in infant mortality.

Q: What made you want to work in infant mortality and racial inequities?
My interest in racial inequalities in infant mortality began in the neonatal intensive care unit during my pediatric residency where I observed the well-documented phenomenon that preterm African-American infants, particularly females, have a LOWER birth weight-specific mortality rate than preterm white infants. When I reviewed the literature, I was stunned that this advantage was trivial because of disproportionately greater incidence of preterm birth among African-American (compared to white women). During my fellowship in neonatology, I earned a MPH in epidemiology to develop the research skills needed to address this pervasive public health problem.

Q: What issues are you most passionate about?
I am extremely motivated and passionate about performing epidemiologic research to understand the social determinants of African-American women’s pregnancy disadvantage. 

Q: What is your most rewarding accomplishment?
Our 1997 NEJM publication showing that the pregnancy outcome of African-born women approximates that of non-Latino Whites is probably my most rewarding accomplishment. It provides strong evidence that genetics do underlie the racial disparity in low birth weight rates. I am also extremely proud of our 2004 AJPH publication that identified chronic exposure to racial discrimination as a risk factor for preterm birth among African-American women.

Q: What is your vision for the future of maternal and child health?
Expanded collaboration among researchers, policy makers, clinicians and community workers is my vision for the future of maternal and child health.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?
If I am not working in the NICU, performing research, or mentoring residents, you will find me on the tennis court or traveling to junior tennis tournaments. I love playing tennis! This includes coaching and playing tennis with my kids.