Focus of research
Willem van Mechelen has a unique combined background in physical education, human movement sciences, epidemiology, (occupational and sports) medicine and public health/primary care. After a career as classroom physical education teacher and occupational physician, he completed his PhD at age 40 years. From that time onwards he engaged himself seriously in science. His research group, which he has built up from scratch in the past 20+ years, has an international reputation and a leading position in the two fields of social medicine he represents: occupational medicine and public health/sports medicine. In Occupational Medicine he has evaluated and introduced graded-exercise programs as highly cost-effective means for return-to-work of workers on sick leave, as well as worksite lifestyle interventions for the entire workforce. He has also been engaged in descriptive and aetiological studies on f.i. fatigue in shift work in the Norwegian offshore industry. In public health/sports medicine he is worldwide known for his 1992 conceptual paper on the ‘sequence of prevention’. This paper is one of the most cited papers in the Musculo-Skeletal injury prevention literature. In addition, he has developed a large number of preventive interventions, also applied in primary care, including care for the elderly (e.g. evaluating the effects of training programs in nursing homes, the effects of programs to mitigate cognitive decline, etc.). He has initiated a number of Academic Workplaces in Occupational Medicine and Youth Health Care, in which stakeholder involvement was the cornerstone. His work has translated into clinical guidelines and practice recommendations and has led in 2009 to the start of the VUmc spin-off company Evalua Nederland B.V., in which knowledge regarding the cost-effective prevention of sickness absence is brought to the corporate occupational health care market. Willem has ample (inter-)national experience as a member of expert committees and professional boards. He is an often-asked speaker at international scientific meetings. He has received a number of prestigious (inter-) national prizes and awards, such as the American College of Sports Medicine Citation Award and the Burger-penning of the Dutch College of Occupational Physicians. He is an honorary member of the same college, as well as of the Royal Dutch Association of Physical Education Teachers. He also has had a prize named after him, was awarded in 2017 an honorary doctorate degree from the Vrije Universiteit, Brussels, Belgium and was made a member of the Wall of Fame of Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences in the same year. His current Google Scholar H-index is 138 and he has > 69.000 citations. He has successfully supervised 75 PhD-students and is Ranked position 5990 (2018) in the ‘career-long’-list in the Scopus database of the ‘100,000 most-cited authors across all scientific fields’ worldwide (Ioannidis et al., 2019; https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.3000384).
Willem has, as former research director of both the EMGO+ Institute and the Amsterdam Public Health Research Institute of VU/VUmc/AMC/UvA, ample experience in all aspects of research and teaching both from a management and governance perspective, as well as from the perspective of regular evaluations according to the Standard Evaluation Protocols of the KNAW (research) and the NVAO (education). In addition, he has been multiple times a member of international panels evaluating the quality of research and educational programs.