Ruth Murphey Parker, MD

Professor of Medicine

Department of Medicine

Office: GMH/FOB 459

Phone: 404-778-1639

Fax: 404-778-1601



Dr. Parker attended Davidson College and received her medical training at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She completed her residency and chief residency at the Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York, and her fellowship as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. She holds Board Certification in both Internal Medicine and Pediatrics.

Dr. Parker is currently Professor of Medicine at the Emory University School of Medicine. She is also Associate Director of the Faculty Development program in the Division of General Medicine, and holds a secondary appointment at the Emory University School of Public Health in the Division of Epidemiology.

Dr. Parker’s primary research interests and activities have been in the area of medical education and health services of underserved populations. She has been actively involved in medical education and faculty development since joining the medical school faculty. Over the last 15 years, Dr. Parker has focused extensively on healthcare issues of underserved populations, particularly health literacy. She was a principal investigator in the Robert Wood Johnson Literacy in Health Study and helped create a widely used measurement tool to quantify patients’ ability to read and understand health information (TOFHLA, the test of functional health literacy in adults). She has authored numerous papers on health literacy, and co-edited the complete bibliography of medicine on health literacy for the National Library of Medicine. She co-authored the most widely used definition of health literacy, which was used in Healthy People 2010 and is currently used by the IOM and by the NIH. Dr. Parker currently serves as consultant and advisor to numerous federal agencies, professional societies, and members of industry on their initiatives related to health literacy.

Dr. Parker has received national recognition for her work. In 2001, she received the Silver Achievement Award for Women in Medicine, which honors women and men who have contributed substantially to women in academic medicine. In 2004, she received the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal award from the American College of Physicians, given “…to that physician-scientist, clinician, or scientific group whose recent innovative work is making a notable contribution to improve clinical care in the field of internal medicine.” In 2005, she received the Walter C. Alvarez award from the American Medical Writers Association “…in recognition of someone known for his/her excellence in communication of health care developments and concepts to the public.”

Dr. Parker’s research has focused on medical education and on health services of underserved populations. For the last 15 years, she has focused predominantly on health literacy. She was Co-PI on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Literacy in Health study, which created a now widely used instrument for measuring health literacy and helped to define the prevalence of the problem. She subsequently collaborated with Prudential Health Services Researchers to define the prevalence and associations of limited health literacy among managed care seniors in 4 geographically diverse locations. She has collaborated extensively with various communities (local/national, private/public, small/large) to help define and advocate for improved health literacy in America, and has numerous peer-reviewed publications on the topic.. She co-edited the complete bibliography of medicine on health literacy for the National Library of Medicine. She chaired the expert panel for the Council of Scientific Affairs for the AMA that authored the frequently cited JAMA white paper on health literacy.

For the last 5 years, Dr. Parker has done more health policy and advocacy for the issue, allowing her to work closely with multiple national organizations (including the IOM, AMA, and ACP and its Foundation); members of industry (pharmaceutical and health services providers); and members of government (including NLM, HRSA, NIH, AHRQ, CDC, FDA, VA, the Surgeon General’s office/ODPHP, and DOE). Her understanding of health literacy comes from listening to patients, those who have problems with understanding how to take care of their health and navigate an increasing complex health care system. Dr. Parker’s passion for advocacy to build a health literate America comes from first hand experience with underserved, vulnerable patients.

In 2003, Dr. Parker began working with the American College of Physicians Foundation on their national initiative to improve health communications. Over the following year, their focus became health literacy. She initially chaired their Patient Literacy Advisory Board, and in 2005 became the Chair of their Programs Committee. In her current position, she oversees the Foundation’s programs, which include: Health Tips—What You Can Do, the Diabetes Self-Management Tool Kit, the Prescription Bottle Labeling Project, the Annual National Health Communication Conference (co-sponsored by the IOM), and the Information Rx Project. As Chair of the Programs committee, Dr. Parker serves on the Executive Board of the Foundation and is a Trustee of the Foundation.

Dr. Parker joined the Emory faculty in 1988 and was Co-Director of the Walk-In Clinic at Grady Memorial Hospital for several years. Her clinical interests are in general internal medicine, with special focus on the broader clinical and health issues most relevant to underserved populations. She has focused all her clinical work at Grady Memorial Hospital, an ideal setting for those with interest in the health of underserved patient populations. She was in-patient attending on the general medicine service for years, and has continuously served as a general medicine attending in the urgent care setting. As clinic co-director, she organized teaching conferences for residents and obtained grant funding for incorporating on-site services of a social worker into the urgent care setting. She also facilitated the funding and administrative work to obtain a nurse practitioner with expertise in out-patient gynecology for the walk-in clinic. Efforts to incorporate the services of these providers grew from her observations of the unique role of walk-in care for underserved patients. Efforts to provide preventive services at the point of contact led to on-site cervical and breast cancer screening in the walk-in setting, and an enhanced role for a social service provider that could link patients in need of housing, food, jobs, substance abuse counseling, and mental health counseling to community resources. Teaching of residents and medical students in the walk- in clinic setting included education about the role of these extended care providers.

Since joining the medical school faculty in 1988, Dr. Parker has been active in medical school teaching. She has lectured in the medical school, the public health school, to residents and faculty. For the last several years, most of her lectures relate to how patients understand and use health information, and how providers can improve their communication of essential health information. She has mentored students, residents, and faculty at Emory for their projects related to health of the underserved, health communication, and health literacy.

Her teaching in health literacy and leadership role with the AMA on their national foundation’s signature effort on health literacy led to their creation of a widely used curriculum (Health Literacy: Help Your Patients Understand) for improving health literacy. This kit includes patient videos and a teaching manual with case studies for teaching community health workers, medical students and practitioners about the issue of health literacy.

Dr. Parker has lectured at numerous national meetings of professional societies and health organizations on the topic of health literacy, and received national recognition for her work in teaching and communication about the issue.

Through work on the IOM Roundtable on Health Literacy, Dr. Parker is also pursuing efforts to enhance national medical education through enhanced curricular and national standardized testing about health literacy. This is a follow-up to the IOM report recommendation about improving professional education about health literacy.

In 2003, Dr. Parker was jointly appointed to the Emory College faculty in the Department of Italian Studies. She developed a course on Medicine and Compassion, which she has taught yearly in the summer studies abroad program for Emory University. For 5 weeks each summer, Dr. Parker travels on a bus with 40 undergraduates and several undergraduate faculty, teaching a class that explores the meaning of medicine and compassion, rendered over time in Italian history and culture. She developed the curriculum for this course, and has now included a junior faculty member as a co-teacher in this popular undergraduate course. Students examine historical and recent writings from the medical humanities and work to understand the meaning of compassion, how it affects the care and health of people, and how it relates to the essence of professionalism.

Dr. Parker currently also collaborates with a group of faculty on development of an elective course for Emory medical students on global health. This course will be offered in the spring, 2007 for the first time.

Dr. Parker has served as Associate Director of the faculty Development Program for the Division of General Medicine for years, and worked with numerous medical students and public health students, especially those with an interest in underserved patients and health literacy. She has been a member of numerous Emory University and medical school committees, including those relating to institutional review and strategic planning for medical education. She has served on search committees, been an associate member of the medical school admissions committee, and a member of the Woodruff Scholar selection committee for the medical school for years.

Dr. Parker chaired the steering committee for the AMA Foundation’s national signature program on health literacy, and also chaired the American College of Physicians Foundation Patient Literacy Advisory Board. She currently is chair of the Programs Committee of the American College of Physicians Foundation, which has several national initiatives devoted to their mission of improving health literacy for patients. These projects include: Health Tips—What You Can Do, the Diabetes Self-Management Tool Kit, the Prescription Bottle Labeling Project, the Annual National Health Communication Conference (co-sponsored by the IOM), and Information Rx Project. As Chair of the Programs committee, she also serves on the Executive Board of the Foundation and is a Trustee of the Foundation.

Dr. Parker was a member of the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Health Literacy, which produced the report Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion, and was also elected to serve on the Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Health Literacy. Dr. Parker is currently a member of NDAC (non-prescription drug advisory committee) for the FDA, the committee of 13 that reviews all drug applications for the switch from prescription to over the counter status. She serves as the expert in label comprehension for this group, and frequently consults with the FDA on issues related to health literacy and patient/consumer understanding of drug information. Dr. Parker recently served as a member of the long-range planning committee of the National Library of Medicine, whose final version of their long range plan describes health literacy as fundamental to their efforts.

Dr. Parker consults with various federal agencies (including the Department of Education, the office of the Surgeon General, the NIH, the CDC, HRSA, AHRQ) for proposals and organizational issues related to health literacy. She works closely with professional societies on their efforts to advance health literacy, and has consulted with numerous members of industry(including large health care provider organizations, chain drug stores, and members of the pharmaceutical industry) regarding their efforts to improve health literacy.


Parker R, Baker D, Williams M, Nurss J. The test of functional health literacy in adults (TOFHLA): a new instrument for measuring patients' literacy skills. J Gen Intern Med. 1995;10:537-541.

Williams M, Parker R, Baker D, et al. Inadequate functional health literacy among patients at two public hospitals. JAMA. 1995;274:1677-1682

Parker RM (chair) Ad Hoc Committee on Health Literacy for the Council on Scientific Affairs: American Medical Association. Health literacy: report of the Council on Scientific Affairs. JAMA. 1999;281:552-557.

Parker RM, Ratzan SC, Lurie N. Health Literacy: A Policy Challenge for Advancing High-Quality Health Care. Health Affairs 2003:22(4);147-153.

Parker RM, Kindig DA. “Beyond the IOM health literacy report: Are the recommendations being taken seriously?” J Gen Int Med 2006:21(8),891-892.