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What’s in a Name?

September 09, 2018
by Rick Harrison

When people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them I am the Communications Officer for Women’s Health Research at Yale.

But it’s not that simple.

Because WHRY is unique, it is not easy to summarize all that the center does in a sentence or two. The name itself offers an accurate description, but not the entire story.

So what exactly is Women’s Health Research at Yale? It is a self-supporting center within Yale School of Medicine that for 20 years has been changing the landscape of medical research and practice by ensuring the study of women and examining health differences between women and men to improve the lives of everyone.

But even that not-so-brief description can lead to a lot of questions among people unfamiliar with our work.

Why, for example, does the landscape of medical research and practice need changing?

Most people are not aware that it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that women were required to be included as participants in clinical trials seeking grants from the National Institutes of Health, the world’s single largest funder of biomedical research. And most people are not aware that it wasn’t until 2016 that the NIH began to require the use of female animals, tissues, and cells in laboratory studies that form the necessary basis for later human trials.

In addition, people might wonder why a center at Yale needs to ensure that researchers examine health differences between sexes and genders. One reason is that even when females are included as research subjects in adequate numbers, the data are not always analyzed by sex or gender to determine if any significant differences exist. This leaves us in the dark about any potential divergences in the prevalence, development, and treatment of diseases and conditions.

So, Women’s Health Research at Yale most definitely benefits women, for whom a gap in health knowledge had grown for decades and whose specific health needs continue to require attention. But WHRY’s additional focus on sex and gender differences also allows men to benefit by illuminating aspects of men’s health that might otherwise get muddled in an unexamined mix of sex and gender data.

And Women’s Health Research at Yale does more than conduct research through our trailblazing Pilot Project Program and interdisciplinary research partnerships. The center also communicates the latest findings to the public to better inform health decisions and lead to better outcomes. Furthermore, we train the next generation of women’s health researchers and clinicians to carry on and spread this important work — both through hands-on mentorship and efforts to integrate sex and gender into medical school curriculums so that physicians and scientists investigate and account for important sex and gender differences.

Finally, it’s important to note that the Y in WHRY stands for Yale, a global institution of higher learning, innovation, and leadership that inspires the minds that inspire the world. WHRY has tremendous resources at our disposal to leverage the generous contributions our supporters make and achieve the greatest possible practical results to improve and even save lives.

In summary, when people ask me what I do, it’s never a short conversation. But it’s an important one. And one I’m eager to have with anyone interested in changing medical research and practice so we can better care for everyone.


For more news from Women's Health Research at Yale, sign up for WHRY's e-blasts, like WHRY on Facebook, follow WHRY on Twitter, or visit WHRY's website.

For questions, please contact Rick Harrison, Communications Officer at rick.harrison@yale.edu or 203-764-6610.

Submitted by Carissa R Violante on September 11, 2018