Exploring Human Potential

AAFP Remembers Barbara Starfield MD

Posted on | June 24, 2011 | 2 Comments

AAFP Source Material

“Barbara Starfield, M.D., M.P.H., of Baltimore, died June 10 at age 78. A pediatrician and renown health services researcher, Starfield was considered a strong advocate for primary care and a friend to family medicine.

Starfield received her medical degree from the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center College of Medicine, Brooklyn, in 1959. From 1959-62, she was an intern and assistant resident at the Harriet Lane Home at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, subsequently earning her master of public health degree in epidemiology from the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health (now the Bloomberg School of Public Health) in 1963.

All told, Starfield’s service at Johns Hopkins spanned more than 50 years and encompassed a wide range of posts in both the schools of medicine and public health, from fellow and instructor in the medical school’s pediatrics department to professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health Department of Health Policy and Management — with a joint appointment in pediatrics — and head of that department’s Division of Public Health Policy, director of the university’s Primary Care Policy Center and, ultimately, university distinguished service professor.

Starfield’s work focused on quality of care, health status assessment, primary care education and equity in health, and was key in the development of such methodological tools as the Primary Care Assessment Tool and the Child Health and Illness Profile, or CHIP, tools for evaluating child and adolescent health status.

Among her many professional activities, Starfield was a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics; a member of the American Public Health Association, the Association for Health Services Research, and the International Epidemiologic Association; and a co-founder and the inaugural president of the International Society for Equity in Health, an organization devoted to furthering knowledge about the determinants of health inequities and how to eliminate them. She served on the governing board of the National Research Council and was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1978, later serving on its governing council. In addition, Starfield served on dozens of advisory panels for both public and private agencies.

Starfield received numerous honors and awards during her professional career, beginning with the David Luckman Memorial Award from the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in 1958. She was honored with the HHS Secretary’s Special Recognition Award in 1991 for her work on a task force to develop child health indicators, the Distinguished Investigator Award from the Association for Health Services Research and the American Public Health Association’s Martha May Eliot Award in 1995, the Morehouse School of Medicine Excellence in Primary Care Award in 2002, and the AAFP’s John G. Walsh Award for Lifetime Contributions to Family Medicine in 2005.

Of the more than 400 journal articles, books, book chapters, papers, editorials, reviews and other publications she authored, two of her works — Primary Care: Concept, Evaluation, and Policy (1992) and Primary Care: Balancing Health Needs, Services, and Technology (1998) — are considered the seminal works in the field.

In the words of Richard Roberts, M.D., J.D., an AAFP past president and the current president of the World Organization of Family Doctors, or Wonca, “Barbara was a tireless advocate for family medicine and primary care. She reminded us of why we chose to become family doctors — to help people, improve health and make the world a better and fairer place.”

Classic Articles by Barbara Starfield MD:

The effects of specialists supply on populations’ health: Assessing the evidence
Starfield B, Shi L, Grover A, Macinko J.
March 2005 – Health Affairs

Is US health really the best in the world?
Starfield B.
July 26, 2000 – JAMA

Is primary care essential?
Starfield B.
October 1994 – The Lancet

Primary care as part of US health services reform
Starfield B, Simpson L.
June 1993 – JAMA

Primary care and health: A cross-national comparison
Starfield B.
October 1991 – JAMA


2 Responses to “AAFP Remembers Barbara Starfield MD”

  1. Peter Legge
    June 24th, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

    I was deeply saddened to learn of Barbara’s passing. She was a top shelf physician researcher devoted to the cause of reducing and eliminating medical errors. She was right there for me as I began my work on healthcare policy. She gave freely and cheerfully of her time.

    In nearly 40 years in the healthcare field, I have not had a more helpful adviser and fellow advocate for the cause of improving the system for patients and providers alike. She will be forever remembered and missed. Many patients are enjoying healthy lives today because of her diligence in uncovering sources and magnitude of system flaws then doggedly insisting on positive change.

    Peter Legge

  2. Mike Magee
    June 24th, 2011 @ 4:19 pm

    Thank you, Peter, for your excellent comment. Earlier this year, we explored the concept of “Advanced Professionalism” ( In the process we reviewed Thomas Enui’s “A View Standing On Others’ Shoulders” in which he describes our work as a “virtuous activity, a moral undertaking”? Dr. Starfield’s work, both the process and the product, reflected our finer instincts.

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