In memoriam: William Cunningham, 60, professor who worked to end health disparities

Dr. William Cunningham
Dr. William Cunningham

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Carla Denly
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Dr. William "Billy" Cunningham, professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and health policy and management in the Fielding School of Public Health, died Jan. 2, in Los Angeles at the age of 60.

A UCLA faculty member for 27 years, Cunningham was known for his rigorous approach to research and his passion for knowledge. He was focused on addressing racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities and implementing solutions, including efforts to recruit and mentor underrepresented minority trainees to UCLA’s educational programs.

"Dr. Cunningham was a true friend, outstanding colleague, teacher, mentor to so many, clinician, and researcher and will be deeply missed by so many people in our community," said Dr. Carol Mangione, chief of the UCLA Division of General Internal Medicine and Health Services Research.

At UCLA's medical school and public health school, he taught graduate courses on racial disparities and health, health services organizations, and outcomes and effectiveness research. He also was director of the UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s TL1 Summer Fellowship Program, co-director of the Investigator Development Core for the National Institute on Aging–funded Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research, and associate director of the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program at UCLA.

Considered one of the foundational researchers studying people living with HIV, Cunningham led research that was designed to improve outcomes along the HIV care continuum. He looked at how social determinants affect outcomes and the causes of HIV disparities.

One of the many programs he led included LINK L.A., which helped HIV-positive men who were newly released from jail continue to receive life-sustaining medical care. A collaboration with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, and faculty and students at Fielding School, the program was the first of its kind.

Cunningham tirelessly worked to advance health and wellness, publishing more than 140 peer-reviewed papers. He also was editor for Sage OPEN and PloS One, as well as a reviewer for the American Journal of Public Health. He was a member of the National Medical Association, the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care and Fielding School's UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Heath Equity and the Center for the Study of Racism, Social Justice & Health, among many other organizations.

Cunningham, who was born Jan. 18, 1959, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, earned his bachelor's degree at Brown University and his medical degree at UC San Francisco's School of Medicine. In 1987 he came to UCLA to complete his residency training in internal medicine, in 1993, he earned his master of public health degree in epidemiology at UCLA, and he joined the faculty that same year.

He is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their two sons, Emery and Kendi.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Center for Health Justice, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving individuals with a history of incarceration by providing health education and services. Any remembrances can be sent to the family: c/o Dr. Carol Mangione, 1100 Glendon Ave., Suite 900, Los Angeles, CA 90024.