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Christoffel Remembered as Trailblazing Pediatrician, Public Health Advocate

Katherine Kaufer Christoffel, MD, MPH ’81, GME ’75, GME ’76, A trailblazing pediatrician, researcher, and public health advocate whose career at Northwestern spanned nearly 44 years, passed away recently at age 74.

“We often forget that we all stand on the shoulders of giants, and that is how we can see so far,” says Philip Greenland, MD, founding director of the Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences (NUCATS) Institute. “In the case of community-engaged research and practice-based research, Kathy was the foremother of these concepts at Northwestern and Lurie Children’s. It is because of people like Kathy that we are where we are where we are today.”

Christoffel served as the inaugural director at Northwestern’s Community-Engaged Research Center (CERC), which was central to the creation of the NUCATS Institute in 2006. 

The CERC was also one of nine vanguard centers critical to the formation of the Institute for Public Health and Medicine (IPHAM) in 2012. CERC was then renamed the Center for Community Health, which has a presence in NUCATS, as well as IPHAM.

“For her entire career, Kathy was a leader and advocate who stood firmly at the forefront of change,” says Ron Ackermann, MD, MPH, director of IPHAM. “She was a mentor, and role model for many of us, and her career and life should be remembered as a shining example for all of us who strive to advance population health and health equity through research, education, and advocacy.”

Christoffel served as associate director for IPHAM’s Master of Public Health Program from the late 1990s through 2014, where among other things, she emphasized the critical role of community engagement and applied practice experience for graduate public health trainees. 

Christoffel was a pillar of innovation at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, helping to forge the institutional foundations of the NUCATS Institute, IPHAM, Stanley Manne Research Institute, and Patrick M. Magoon Institute for Healthy Communities.

“KKC, as many of us called her, left an indelible mark on the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute,” says Adam Becker, PhD, MPH, executive director of the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children. “Whether you knew her or not, as a fierce advocate for a public health approach to children’s health within and outside the walls of our institution, Kathy had a hand in the very things we come to work for every day. The world lost a true children’s health champion but her legacy lives on in each of us.”

In a multi-decade medical career, Christoffel's research spanned subjects from vehicle safety to sleep behaviors, and a noteworthy focus on gun safety and firearm violence prevention. Her passionate investigations into the root causes of childhood obesity served to inform myriad public health approaches to obesity prevention in use today. 

As a professor in pediatrics and preventive medicine, Christoffel produced more than 150 peer-reviewed publications. In addition, Christoffel was honored as the 2011 recipient of the Daniel Hale Williams Award for Distinguished Service to Underserved Communities for her advocacy work related to gun injury prevention and nutrition and childhood obesity.

She earned her medical degree at Tufts University School of Medicine in 1973 before completing her residency (1975) and clinical fellowship (1976) at Northwestern and Children’s Memorial Hospital, now known as Lurie Children’s. According to her obituary, Christoffel is survived by her daughter, Kim, son, Kevin, and two grandchildren.

Written by Roger Anderson

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