Sherman James

Health disparities through a multidisciplinary lens

Even after a long and distinguished career, Sherman James wanted to continue working with students. So in 2014, he joined the Rollins School of Public Health as a research professor of epidemiology.

"I felt I could do what I want to do much better at Emory than anyplace else," says James, who holds a secondary appointment in African American studies. An expert in the social underpinnings of health disparities, he was drawn to Emory for its strong public health research and its many schools and departments that can facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration.

The Institute of Medicine member is known for originating the "John Henryism" hypothesis about the health risks of prolonged "high-effort coping" behaviors with difficult social and economic stressors. Through his research on African American communities, he found that such coping contributes to higher risks of cardiovascular diseases. The hypothesis is named for the legendary John Henry of steel-driving fame, who died suddenly after defeating a mechanical steam drill in a contest of man against machine.

James is now working with graduate students on a statistical analysis of longitudinal health data that he collected in North Carolina. "This will take a team of different kinds of scholars with complementary strengths to complete," James says.

He's also wrapping up his first Emory College course, cross-listed in African American studies, human health, and sociology. The final assignment was a team-based presentation to synthesize diverse research about race and health disparities. Encouraging students to pursue multidisciplinary solutions is typical Jamesian.