Reflecting on the Center for Health Equity Transformation: CHET’s First Five Years

"Large streams from little fountains flow, Tall oaks from little acorns grow."
--D. Everett, The Columbian Orator, 1797

Just over five years ago, key leaders at the University of Kentucky came together to discuss the development of a new research center, later to be named the Center for Health Equity Transformation (CHET), designed to tackle the leading health conditions experienced by Kentuckians. At the time, this was viewed as an interesting, albeit unprecedented, concept. To bolster the case for creating CHET, I brought with me something I knew would be appreciated by this group of scientists and healthcare leaders: data. Making the point that health equity was an increasingly acknowledged field, a research and training priority, and a pathway to improve population health, I assembled data on UK’s aspirational benchmarks with such centers (all); funding opportunity announcements from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (many); NIH-funded R series and Center grants with “health equity” as a key word(many), the boost that such a center might provide for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives (speculatory), and the potential to improve health (aspirational). I stressed the need for a transdisciplinary, collaborative center focused on translational research and training efforts across diseases with the purpose of addressing health inequities in the Commonwealth and beyond.

Swayed by both the data and their fundamental interest in equity, this group of UK leaders got to work assembling a package that would very quickly become the supportive basis for CHET. With their encouragement and pledges of support, we obtained approval from key entities, applied for space in the new Healthy Kentucky Research Building, initiated the process to recruit and hire our first CHET/Behavioral Science faculty and staff, set up our financial accounts, disseminated information about CHET, and—quickly and surely —started becoming what we are today.

The justification for CHET’s focus is all too easy to make: Kentucky has a declining life expectancy and among the highest national rates of morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular disease, cancer, substance abuse, diabetes, and obesity. Moreover, the burden of these diseases is not evenly distributed; suffering falls disproportionately on rural, racial/ethnic, and LBGTQIA communities, those with disabilities and those from lower socioeconomic status groups. Unfortunately, while key progress has been made in addressing these health disparities (for example, nearly all Kentuckians have health care insurance coverage due to the Affordable Care Act’s provision of Medicaid expansion and a state-run health insurance marketplace), there is much to be done.


The investment our leaders have made in CHET’s potential to undertake this work is humbling and inspiring. The spirit of collaboration and positive energy that helped to build CHET over the past five years grows ever stronger. From one faculty member and one graduate student in 2018 to ten primary faculty members, 19 core faculty affiliates, over 200 faculty affiliates and eight graduate research assistants in 2023; with $102.5 million in annual grant funding; four health equity training programs; and a full roster of speakers, workshops, sponsorships, pilot grant competitions, award programs, and more, we are becoming the health equity research and training nexus we hoped to be. It’s helpful for us to pause and reflect on our humble beginnings and to celebrate how far we have come. We invite you to review these pages to better understand and become energized through our accomplishments as we accelerate our mission to foster innovative, transdisciplinary, and impactful research and training to improve the health of the most vulnerable residents of Kentucky and beyond.

Explore our website and let us hear from you: 
Nancy E. Schoenberg, PhD, Director

Transforming Health in the Commonwealth: The First Five Years of the Center for Health Equity Transformation

This comprehensive report covers the first five years of the CHET's progress. It includes information about health equity research conducted at the center and an overview of training and health equity programming supported by CHET.

Click here to access the report.