Let’s Talk—Careers Addressing Health Disparities

Michele K. Evans, M.D., senior investigator in the Laboratory of Epidemiology and Population Science at the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and Natasha H. Williams, Ph.D., J.D., LL.M., M.P.H., presented at the NIAID Postbac Research Training and Development Series.

Credit: NIAID

By Hannah Shepard, Postbac in the Virus Persistence & Dynamics Section of the Immunology Laboratory, NIAID Vaccine Research Center

For the March installment of the Postbac Research Training and Development Series hosted by the NIAID training office, postbacs were joined by Michele K. Evans, M.D., senior investigator in the Laboratory of Epidemiology and Population Science at the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and Natasha H. Williams, Ph.D., J.D., LL.M., M.P.H., Legislative liaison, National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) for a panel on health disparities careers. NIAID postbac Hannah Shepard recaps the insights shared by the panelists on health disparities career pathways and their inspiration for pursuing this career.

Both panelists began by sharing their professional journeys that led them to address health disparities, something neither had planned, reminding those of us early in our careers to be open to new opportunities. They also encouraged us to be prepared, expectant of, and even excited for a nonlinear career journey. As Dr. Evans said, “you can make your own path!”

The women represent just a few of the many ways that we can join in the fight to address health disparities. Dr. Williams, a lawyer, sees herself as a “translator” who helps to explain important science to policymakers as she regularly participates in briefings, responds to Congressional inquiries, and stays informed of current research. Dr. Evans takes a different approach in the lab, marrying biology and social determinants of health. She understands that these social determinants truly get under the skin through biological pathways that can be measured and understood. Her lab focuses specifically on the ways that social determinants of health affect longevity as well as the incidence of morbidity and mortality in minority and low socioeconomic status (SES) Americans.

Drs. Evans and Williams sought to address health disparities that their eyes were opened to by personal experience, noticing the impacts in their surrounding community. Dr. Evans shared how she was influenced by the immediacy of the issues in the Baltimore community and was compelled to do something about them.

For those passionate about this topic, the speakers suggest honing both scientific and transferrable skills—being a brilliant scientist who can communicate well and engage emotionally is the goal. As we have all seen over the past year, COVID-19 affected and exposed many social determinants of health both domestically and abroad. The need for further health disparities research is substantial, as Dr. Williams reminded postbacs that “in this field you can make a difference…be of service to your community…and make life better for people.” Thanks for the great work you do, Drs. Williams and Evans!

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