Currently heading into its fourth year, WHRY’s Undergraduate Fellowship pairs students with faculty mentors and offers a “scientific home” to buttress their coursework. This active participation program equips Yale students with the knowledge and skills they will need to carry this vital work forward, influencing others throughout their promising careers.
“If more scientists appreciate the importance of studying the influence of sex and gender in health, they can help create the momentum for change,” said Haleigh Larson, a Class of ’18 graduate who spent two years as a WHRY fellow. “In the future, when I’m doing my own research, I want to conduct studies that are thoughtfully designed to consider sex and gender specificity and communicate results in a way that is directly relevant to women and men.”
In her time with WHRY, Larson helped produce and test the efficacy of a series of public health literacy videos designed to address the unique vulnerability of girls and young women to the negative effects of sexually transmitted infections, alcohol abuse, and stress. Her work ranged from researching topics, assisting with script writing, performing voiceover and on camera, and organizing, administering, and analyzing data from in-person survey sessions.
After graduation, Larson began a two-year position with The Brotman-Baty Institute in Seattle researching cancer-causing gene mutations before applying to medical school and pursuing a career as a clinical geneticist.
Rose Davis, Class of ’18, worked with Dr. Lisa Freed, Director of Yale New Haven Hospital’s Women’s Heart and Vascular Program and a collaborator with WHRY on integrating health research into clinical practice.
For two years, Davis shadowed Dr. Freed at her clinic and participated in research studying women and their adherence to cholesterol-reducing medication guidelines established by the American Heart Association.
Talking to patients, administering questionnaires, and examining medical records for risk factors led Davis to a better understanding of how patients think and feel about taking medication.
“I feel I have a much more well-rounded understanding of what it means to be a patient and a physician,” Davis said. “I’m really grateful for that. Dr. Freed’s patients love her because she understands their challenges and, as a consequence, they are more likely to work with her to help themselves.”
Davis worked this summer in London at an internship with a new wellness company that runs retreats in Switzerland focusing on mental health, sleep, nutrition, and fitness. Next year, she plans to apply to medical school. And spread her WHRY knowledge wherever she goes.
“WHRY gave me an unparalleled education,” she said. “I found it extremely interesting. Every time I sat down with Dr. Mazure, I felt I took away something new.”
Kanan Shah, Class of ’18, was mentored by Dr. Kimberly Yonkers, Director of Yale’s Center for Wellbeing of Women and Mothers, working on projects to help pregnant mothers with substance abuse problems.
While crafting effective surveys, developing educational materials, and interacting with patients, Shah learned the value of gaining firsthand research experience as an undergraduate.
“I think this would fall into my most meaningful experiences at Yale,” Shah said. “I feel like before joining the WHRY fellowship and Dr. Yonkers’ lab, clinical research was just this term thrown around everywhere, but I didn’t know what it entailed.”
Shah shared her admiration of Dr. Yonkers as a positive role model.
“She really operates out of compassion,” Shah said. “She’s very keen when she observes patients, very good at deducing more than what they just tell her. Despite her brain working 100 miles per hour, she makes them at ease and is very present.”
Shah is now taking a year off before applying to medical school, and she feels confident that she can transfer her skills to her current job at the New York University Department of Population Health as part of a health care innovation delivery team.
“I think this is something I want to keep going in my career,” Shah said. “I really like talking to people. Everybody is so different and unique. I don’t see how a provider can adequately treat patients without knowing about their life and not just that one condition they are treating them for.”
Lauren McNeel, Class of ’18, was mentored by Dr. Kelly Cosgrove at the Yale PET Center, using brain scans to examine the causes and consequences of addiction and to determine what role sex and gender might play in the neurochemistry of addiction.
“It definitely added to my understanding of how nuanced research can be and how important it is to look for specific differences,” McNeel said. “And how investigations like these are really affecting the future of women’s health research.”
McNeel is taking the year off before applying to graduate programs. She wants to study women’s public health policy and law. And she knows she will always apply lessons learned through biomedical research.
She has already shared the knowledge she gained from her work with WHRY and Dr. Cosgrove with friends and classmates, adding insight on historical inequities in health care research when discussing the dynamics of gender on markets and political power.
“It’s been eye-opening for me and also the people around me,” she said.