Jeannette Ickovics, the inaugural Samuel and Liselotte Herman Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Yale School of Public Health, will receive the 2023 Martha May Eliot Award from the American Public Health Association (APHA). She will be presented with the award on Nov. 13 at the APHA’s Annual Meeting and Expo in Atlanta.
Dr. Martha May Eliot, MD (1891-1978) was a pioneer in the study of maternal and child health and APHA’s first female president. She also was a one-time Yale faculty member. She came to the Yale School of Medicine in 1921 when her mentor at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Edwards A. Park, MD, founded Yale’s first Department of Pediatrics. She left the YSM faculty in 1935 to become assistant chief of the U.S. Children’s Bureau, later serving as chief, but remained a lecturer at Yale until 1950.
Ickovics, who is also affiliated with the Yale Institute for Global Health, has had a distinguished career at YSPH, and was the founding director of social and behavioral sciences at YSPH (2002-2012). She also was the founding director of CARE: Community Alliance for Research and Engagement as part of the Yale School of Medicine’s inaugural Clinical and Translational Science Award (2007-2017). She served as deputy director of the Yale Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS (CIRA), where she directed a National Institutes of Health training program for pre- and post-doctoral fellows for 15 years. In addition, she was dean of faculty at Yale-NUS College in Singapore from 2018-2021, and was a visiting professor there during the 2017-2018 academic year.
In his congratulatory letter, APHA President Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, MD, cited Ickovics’ innovations in maternal and child health practice, research, education, and advocacy. “Your work has improved birth outcomes for women and children nationally and internationally, especially for vulnerable and special populations, such as refugees, teens, women in the military, pregnant women with chronic disease and HIV, and women at risk for adverse prenatal outcomes,” he wrote.
He specifically mentioned her work as one of the researchers who developed the Expect With Me model of group prenatal care, which integrates technology and an information technology platform to support the clinical care model.
Ickovics said she is “honored and humbled” to receive the award, which she said reflects decades of collaborative transdisciplinary research with faculty, post-doctoral scholars, and students from Yale and elsewhere.
“Our research in group prenatal care took an innovative approach to care and evaluated the outcomes using rigorous methodologies, including randomized controlled clinical trials,” she said. “I am proud that our research provides a strong foundation for ongoing clinical innovations in group prenatal care in hundreds of sites around the world, from South Carolina to South Africa.”
Ickovics said the Eliot Award is “extraordinarily special” because APHA recognized her research as well as her dedication to mentorship and training. She extended her thanks to her long-term collaborators: Jessica Lewis, Dr. Urania Magriples, MD, Shayna Cunningham, and Sharon Schindler Rising, MSN ’67, formerly of the Centering Healthcare Institute and founder of the nonprofit Group Care Global.
The award is also special, she said, because of its association with Dr. Martha May Eliot.
“Dr. Eliot was a trailblazer and leader in maternal and child health both domestically and globally: an architect of the New Deal postwar programs in the United States, as well as a signatory establishing the World Health Organization and then its Assistant Director General,” Ickovics said. “Dr. Eliot was the first woman to be elected president of the American Public Health Association. And she was a pioneer in the social determinants of health, conducting community-engaged research to prevent rickets in New Haven and in Puerto Rico.”
Ickovics was recommended for the award by Dr. Sten H. Vermund, MD, Anna M.R. Lauder Professor of Public Health and former dean at YSPH. He cited her work on group prenatal care and reducing risk factors for adverse perinatal outcomes; reducing adolescents’ risks for unwanted pregnancy; and enhancing programs to empower girls to control their own fertility. As founding director of CARE, she also was involved in promoting children’s health, such as her tireless work on preventing childhood obesity and enhancing nutritional options in food deserts. “In other words,” he said, “there is scholarship and community action in everything that Dr. Ickovics tackles.”
Among this year’s other APHA award recipients will be singer/actor/activist/philanthropist Dolly Parton. She will receive the 2023 APHA Presidential Citation for her donations to COVID-19 research, as well as her support of marginalized groups, and devotion to child literacy. Her $1 million donation to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in April 2020 partially funded the development of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.
“Even more extraordinary” than Parton’s musical career, where she is a member of the Country Music and Rock and Roll halls of fame, Ickovics said, “are her decades of philanthropy related to health and education.” She cited Parton’s work in prevention and eliminating stigma from people with HIV; her early support of marriage equality and LGBTQ+ rights; being one of the first people to step up with private monies to support COVID vaccines; donating to health-related research, including maternity care and birthing centers as well as research on pediatric infectious disease; and donating more than 200 million books to promote literacy.
“I don’t think many people know about this,” she said, “and I am delighted that APHA has chosen to recognize and honor her contributions along with many distinguished scholars at the 2023 Annual Meeting.”