Meet Our President, Dr. Shimon Waldfogel
Dr. Shimon Waldfogel is the founder and current president of the Institute for Salutogenesis. Is a board-certified psychiatrist with a wealth of clinical experience. Before his retirement, he served with distinction as an attending psychiatrist at Abington-Jefferson Health in Abington, PA. Through his leadership, The Institute for Salutogenesis is poised to explore new frontiers in health promotion, empowering citizens to thrive and positively influence societal health.
Forty-five years ago, in 1976, a serendipitous chain of events led to my acceptance into the fourth class of the newly formed medical school in Beer Sheva. It was there that I met Professor Aaron Antonovsky, a medical sociologist at Ben Gurion University in Israel, who interviewed me upon my application. Aaron—whom he preferred to be called—played a pivotal role in shaping the school's curriculum with a unique focus on how life experiences inform a person's sense of coherence. This perspective aids individuals in harnessing their internal resources to navigate life's stressors and uncertainties.
Our curriculum blended traditional medical sciences with an exploration of health creation and maintenance, laying the groundwork for Aaron's salutogenic model—a model I have recently re-engaged with after retiring from nearly four decades of clinical psychiatric practice. His work, particularly intriguing due to his study on the resilience of Holocaust survivors in Israel, posed a seminal question: How do people maintain health despite a constant state of risk and threat?
Since Aaron's passing in 1994, salutogenesis has gained traction, particularly in Europe. It has informed numerous research projects and interventions, but it was Dr. Sir Harry Burns' lecture, "What Causes Wellness?" that reignited my passion. As Scotland's former Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Burns applied salutogenic principles to tackle his country's opioid crisis, showcasing the model's potential to guide individual and societal health interventions.
Aaron's salutogenic approach has broad applications, extending well beyond healthcare to provide a lens through which we can better understand and respond to today's health and societal challenges. This model complements and enhances current health care frameworks by empowering individuals as political agents, enabling them to combat the toxicity of marginalization and alienation.
In my journey, I've applied this model personally, navigating the national challenges of polarization, inequality, and climate change. It has taught me the importance of understanding the political ecosystem and engaging with it meaningfully.
Today, digital technology has further enriched this paradigm, offering new ways to map health ecosystems salutogenically. It's an integral part of my "Citizenism Project," an initiative aimed at reclaiming my role as an active citizen and honoring my political agency.
The Institute for Salutogenesis serves as a conduit for my salutogenic journey. It is informed by "We the People @ 250," a vision that builds on the ongoing American project and aims to fulfill the promises of our nation's founders.
Reflecting on my educational journey, I recall the entire Negev region serving as our classroom. Regular discussions with Aaron and his wife, Helen, emphasized the importance of context in understanding well-being—a principle that, sadly, is no longer recognized or taught at Ben Gurion University, despite its foundational role in the school's history.
In subsequent years, I continued to explore the intersections of religion, spirituality, and health, drawing on Aaron's wisdom. While my engagement with salutogenesis waned during my career, its principles remained a touchstone for a holistic patient care approach. Now, it is central to my efforts in both personal development and societal contribution.