On 23 June 2023, our community lost Dr. Felicia Hill-Briggs, a remarkable colleague and friend to many. She was a professor, behavioral scientist, and social justice warrior. Beloved, admired, and respected, she left an extraordinary legacy of science and mentorship.
A symphony of emotions could be heard on 24 June 2023 as we concluded the American Diabetes Association (ADA) Scientific Sessions’ Diabetes Care Symposium on social determinants of health. Hundreds of conference attendees listened to her masterful presentation, which was recorded the week before her passing, and stood captivated by her unmatched ability to cover topics about the social and political systems and structures that must be transformed to truly care for people living with diabetes. Her talk reflected her own personal experience of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 9, having difficulty accessing medical care because of her race, and being underinsured and not able to afford diabetes supplies. Her outstanding work and unyielding commitment to it can be attributed to her knowledge that the challenges she faced as a young adult were not unique and the toil of such challenges is still experienced by many living with diabetes today.
Dr. Hill-Briggs was on faculty at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine for 22 years and was the 201st woman to be promoted to full professor. In 2021, she transitioned to Northwell Health as the Vice President of Prevention and was also the Simons Distinguished Chair in Clinical Research at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine and an associate director and professor within the Institute of Health Systems Science at Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research. Her expertise was in the design of individual- and system-level interventions to prevent and improve the management of diabetes and other chronic diseases, with a particular focus on populations disproportionately experiencing health inequities. A key piece of her legacy is the ADA-recognized DECIDE Self-Management Support Program (www.decideprogram.com), which was initially designed to support diabetes self-management. The DECIDE program has improved medication adherence and self-management behaviors, has been adapted to improve outcomes across four chronic conditions, and continues to expand.
While her academic achievements are well documented on Wikipedia and PubMed, it is the intangible and immeasurable influence of Dr. Hill-Briggs’ academic service and mentorship that is more challenging to summarize. She was never idle. She was driven by a strong desire to transform societal norms that drive health disparities, and she immersed herself in efforts to advance education, accessibility, and care for individuals with diabetes. She was a tireless volunteer with the ADA and served as its national President for Health Care and Education in 2018. In 2020, she was the lead author on a scientific statement on the social determinants of health and diabetes that focused on studies of socioeconomic status, neighborhood and physical environment, food environment, health care, and social context and that made recommendations for new research and linking health care and community sectors.
Her brilliance was evident in all that she did. Scores of trainees and collaborators were touched by her guidance, wisdom, and compassion. Her campus office was a place for scholarship and solace for eager trainees, and she also offered respite and friendship to countless colleagues. She warmly welcomed all who sought her counsel, inviting them to engage in profound conversations that transcended the boundaries of scientific inquiry. Her generous spirit knew no limits, as even those who never had the fortune of meeting her in person marveled at her collegiality in answering their requests to discuss her behavioral interventions and ideas. Her dedication was infectious, and she left all who interacted with her feeling valued.
Dr. Hill-Briggs lived joyfully, cherishing the company of her family and friends. As a scientist, she embodied a fierce work ethic, and she guided us toward inclusion and justice. Her legacy will forever be etched in our memories, as we recall her quick wit, her detailed responses to questions, her clarity of focus, and the laughter that resonated through our shared experiences. We mourn the loss of her spirit and her radiant light, yet her work lives on.
We dedicate this issue of Diabetes Care to her. Her final lecture, delivered at the 2023 ADA Scientific Sessions’ Diabetes Care Symposium on social determinants of health, is a good example of how passionately she worked to transform the world.