Meghan Francis has conducted biomedical research on several topics, and she’s currently working as a research assistant in the nutrition sciences department at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, identifying immune markers in obese mice with renal cancer. But broader societal factors inspired her to pursue a master’s degree in public health (M.P.H.) at DMU. Her determination to bridge biomedical research and public implementation of its findings helped her land a $5,000 Tylenol Future Care Scholarship, awarded annually to 40 exceptional students pursuing health care degrees.
Growing up in West Virginia, where — according to the U.S. Census Bureau — median household income is the nation’s second-lowest, Francis observed negative health effects resulting from social disparities.
“Deficiencies in dental care, poor childhood nutrition and inadequate hygiene resulted in poor social outcomes for many teenagers at my high school,” she says. “When I thought about academia, I desperately wanted to help the citizens of my state and others like them gain a higher quality of life.”
As a child, she also learned how polio had cut short her aunt’s life and realized how the vaccine for the disease could have prevented that, had her aunt been born 20 years later. “I was drawn toward the health care industry to help people gain a higher quality of life through scientific discoveries and breakthrough interventions,” Francis says. “I have always found disease etiology fascinating.”
That led her to biomedical research internships at Tufts University, where she studied breast cancer and innate immunity, and at Stanford University, where she explored multiple sclerosis. She then began pursuing a Ph.D. in immunology at the University of Iowa. “However, in my first year of course work, I realized my passion was not cellular regulation of diseases but rather population health and the study of the transmission and prevention of diseases at both community and societal levels,” she says.
She exited the program to begin the M.P.H. program at DMU, but she retained a deep interest in vaccination issues. She has worked with Natoshia Askelson, M.P.H., Ph.D., assistant professor in the University of Iowa College of Public Health, community and behavioral health department, to investigate the effects of Medicaid on HPV vaccination rates in Iowa and the factors preventing vaccination.
Francis hopes that her previous studies and her M.P.H. degree will equip her to “design and implement interventions aimed at combatting the emerging vaccination noncompliance trends and help improve health and social outcomes for many individuals.” She’s troubled by false information that continues to lead some parents to refuse to vaccinate their children, and she’s committed to support education as “one necessary intervention” among parents and community leaders. That’s shaped her long-term goal to become a health scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“That would be a fulfilling achievement for me, because I would be directly impacting so many U.S. citizens with research performed at the CDC,” she says. “An entire population may be positively changed because of important research efforts.”