Category: Research Interests

UIC MCH Trainee at the 2019 National Sexual Health Conference

Author: Genevieve R. Rizzo, MPH | Doctoral Student | Community Health Sciences, Maternal and Child Health

This summer, I had the opportunity to attend and present at the 2019 National Sexual Health Conference (NSHC) in downtown Chicago, thanks to a travel grant from the UIC Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health (CoE-MCH)! The three-day conference brought together clinicians, researchers, educators, social workers, and healthcare administrators from across the country, all of whom share a passion for sexual and reproductive health. The main mission of the NSHC was “to move sexual health forward in the United States by creating opportunities to share information, efforts, and best practices around sexual health across the lifespan, as well as by bridging the varied disciplines of education, advocacy, and clinical care.” This year, there were approximately 1,000 participants and presenters coming together with this shared goal. The conference format was organized in a way that attendees could pick and choose which panels, presentations, and workshops they wanted to go to during various designated time slots during each of the three days. With over 100 different sessions to choose from, content spanned the spectrum of sexual health topics, including reproductive health, comprehensive sex education, abortion policy, HIV/AIDS and PrEP developments, gender identity and LGBTQ health concerns, sexual violence prevention, stigma, and health equity.

Because my personal research interests lie in reproductive health and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), I sought out sessions that would give me new perspectives and knowledge on topics I am already so passionate about. For example, I was able to attend workshop sessions such as “Integrating Trauma-Informed Approaches into Sexual Health Education” and “How to Collect a Patient’s Sexual History Information with Compassion, Sensitivity, and Efficiency.” I also wanted to get out of my research area “comfort zone” and attend sessions on topics I previously did not know that much about, in order to learn as much as I could and take advantage of all of the expertise and resources the conference had to offer. One of my favorite presentations at the conference was a presentation called “Sexual Development of Black Girls: A Grounded Theory Study,” which shared some fascinating findings about how Black girls described their journeys of becoming sexual Black women and presented a unique qualitative methodology as well.

In addition to the variety of workshops and sessions, the conference also included a poster and networking reception night. Earlier this year, the abstract I submitted was accepted for presentation at the conference, so I had the opportunity to share a poster about my master’s thesis research, entitled “Sexually Transmitted Infection Risk among Detained African American Girls in Atlanta.” The reception was a fun environment to present in, where people strolled by and stopped to ask questions about my research. This was my first time presenting independent research at a conference, so it was a very exciting and nerve-wracking experience!

Overall, I had a wonderful time presenting at the conference and gained so much knowledge and skills from all of the sessions I attended over the three-day period. I truly appreciate how invested the CoE-MCH is in its students’ professional development; as a doctoral student, these kinds of conference experiences are invaluable in helping shape us into confident, capable researchers. I am so grateful for the travel grant the CoE-MCH awarded me so that I could attend, and for the chance to connect with fellow researchers passionate about sexual health.

Reframing Research on Women’s Bladder Health

When thinking about common public health women’s issues, bladder health may not initially come to mind. However, Dr. Jeni Hebert-Beirne and the Prevention of Lower Urinary Symptoms in Women (PLUS) Consortium are working to reframe the current approach to addressing women’s bladder health and lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) with an exclusive focus on prevention.

LUTS includes accidentally leaking urine, needing to go often during the day and having a strong and sudden need to urinate. In the U.S. 20-40% of women young and middle-aged are affected by these symptoms. LUTS increases women’s risk for other health issues such as depression, obesity and diabetes. While an issue that affects women’s lives, many may not feel comfortable actually discussing their symptoms let along seeking care. When symptoms reach the threshold of care seeking many women are confronted with health care providers who are unskilled and untrained in addressing their symptoms. LUTS have a significant economic impact on the health care system and on families impacted.  Therefore, the PLUS Consortium was formed, through funding the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as a transdisplinary research initiative comprised of experts from various fields across the country conducting studies that will guide future prevention and program research for LUTS.

As a member of the PLUS Consortium, Dr. Hebert-Beirne is launching the research by conducting a focus group study with women and girls across the country to understand how they learn about issues with their bladders and who they talk to about bladder health. These focus groups will prioritize special populations of women including those who work in occupations where they have little control over their bladders (e.g. factory workers), women who speak a language other than English and teens. Building off of Dr. Hebert-Beirne’s extensive work on social determinants of health, this research aims to understand bladder health in the context of women’s lives and through the life course model. Dr. Hebert-Beirne, who previously conducted research on bladder health through the Women’s Health Foundation, is enthusiastic about this NIH initiative. “I am drawn to issues that are ignored and the degree to which they impact people’s lives. Women are suffering in silence. Surgeons have been treating LUTS over and over without much success and are finally realizing we should move upstream.”

To prepare for the upcoming focus groups, Dr. Hebert-Beirne and PLUS Consortium partners at Loyola are holding a training at UIC-SPH this month for group facilitators from all over the country. This training will ensure that facilitators are equipped with the skills necessary to lead and encourage discussions with women on topics that they may not be used to openly discussing.

Information learned from the national focus groups will guide next research steps that may explore women’s social networks and how these networks relate to bladder health. Dr. Hebert-Beirne hopes to also expand this research to look specifically at LBTQ women, a group often ignored in the field. For public health researchers and students interested in research similar to the PLUS Consortium initiative, Dr. Hebert-Beirne stressed the importance of getting involved in community engagement efforts. “The [Plus Consortium] is taking the need for research that is community engaged and informed seriously…Community engagement is important to build an infrastructure in communities.”

To learn more about the PLUS Consortium visit

Written by Danielle Noriega, MPH/MBA Candidate

Early Childhood Justice: Moving Forward

On October 18th 2016, experts in housing, health and employment; students, and early childhood advocates met at Loyola University’s Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law to discuss progress, explore new data on the race and poverty disparities of health, and develop a trajectory for future research in the field of early childhood health. This conference, titled, Justice from the Start: Exploring Racial Disparities in Access to Services for Babies and Toddlers, included keynote speaker Olivia Garden, Executive Director of Loyola’s Center for Law and Social Policy, and featured Dr. Aisha Ray, Professor Emeritus at Erikson Institute.

In Chicago, Hispanic children are two times as likely to be born into poverty, and among African American children, this statistic increases to three. The mission of Shriver Center is to “promote justice, and improve the quality of life and opportunities for upward mobility for those living in poverty.” To best identify and address the needs of our most disadvantaged communities, advocates must approach system change with the application of a “race lens.” As Olivia Golden presented: young children of color are the poorest population among children aged 0-3; and a child born poor, is more likely to become an adult who is poor.

A theme throughout the conference was the intersection of race and poverty and their impacts on health of young children and their families. Early exposure to poverty impacts the lives of children in many direct and indirect ways. Increased food or housing insecurity, a lack of health care services, racial discrimination, and limited proximity to early childhood centers compound the challenges faced by young children and their families. Those who are invested in the fight to break the cycle of poverty in Early Childhood to break the cycle of poverty: must prioritize racial justice. This approach will impact the lives and stability of parents, and as a result the health and wellbeing of their young children will be improved.

Participants explored the importance of structural racism and equity in the development of policies, services, and programs targeting the needs of infants and toddlers. In Chicago, across the United States, race remains a controversial subject, and racism as a barrier to health needs to be included in our nations dialogue of health equity. Structural and institutional factors, such as early childhood education centers or screening programs, influence childhood health outcomes; however, we need to recognize how we exclude the most at need when we frame future laws and policies. The following are examples of policies that impact health equity in Early Childhood:

  • Proximity of high quality, bi-lingual early childhood programs to the infants and toddlers most in need;
  • Policies which allow the expulsion or suspension of preschool-aged children;
  • Implicit bias and lower expectations of children and families of color;
  • Quality of programs or curricula used with children in poverty and of color.

Beyond recognizing the many challenges and barriers Early Childhood advocates face, participants had the opportunity to discuss areas where we can advocate. With an accumulation of research focusing on equity in early childhood, there is an increasing wealth of data that can be leveraged to strategize future steps. To reduce structural racialization and implicit bias, we can target different levels of change. Through personal and interpersonal change, individuals become more effective in relating to others and interpersonal conflict in reduced. Individuals and groups can collaborate to address structural and systemic inequities, such as biased hiring practices and promotion, policies, and a lack of inclusive institutional cultures. Participants then discussed how to address these systemic inequities. The following are some examples of proposed strategies:

  • Improve data collection to make up for inconsistent data
  • Focus on structural racism systemic inequality rather than personal prejudices
  • Broaden the representation of diverse individuals and communities most affected by early childhood policies and programs
  • Develop a highly qualified, culturally, racially, and linguistically diverse early childhood workforce.

We are tasked with the responsibility as professionals in early childhood to challenge these barriers to equity. With further research and a greater understanding of new data on race disparities in early childhood, advocates can ensure that all children have equal access to services, regardless of their race or poverty status.

Written by: Paula Satariano, MPH Candidate 2018 and Irving Harris Early Childhood Scholar

4 Ways to Advocate for Improved Cervical Health All Year Long

According to the CDC, while rates of cervical cancer incidence and mortality have been decreasing1, in 2011, over 12,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer and over 4,000 lost their lives2. Cervical cancer is preventable by taking steps to avoid contracting the human papillomavirus (HPV) and receiving the recommended screenings at the right times.

The HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer3. The CDC estimates that HPV causes approximately 10,400 new cases of cervical cancer each year in the United States4. Luckily, we can protect our cervical health and prevent contracting HPV by taking the following steps.

1. Get the Pap test (but not too often)!

In 2012, ACOG changed their guidelines regarding Pap tests, now recommending that women receive the test beginning at age 215. From the ages of 21-29, women are advised to receive annual women’s wellness exams, but should only get Pap smears every three years. Women who are 30-65 years old should continue to get Pap tests every three years, or every five years when they receive both the HPV screening test and a Pap smear. After 65 years of age, women who have been “adequately screened” are recommended to stop getting Pap tests6.

 2. Get the HPV Vaccine.

Boys and girls should get the three doses of HPV vaccine at 11 or 12 years of age7. Women who have not been vaccinated are able to receive the HPV vaccine until age 26, and men until age 21. Men who test positive for HIV, and gay and bisexual men are also advised to get the vaccine until age 267.

3. Stay Informed and Inform a Friend.

Guidelines about how often and when to begin receiving screenings change. Stay informed about recommended Pap test schedules and tell your friends and family. If you are under 26 and haven’t been vaccinated, read up about the Cervarix and Gardasil vaccines here7.

 4. Advocate for the Programs that Increase Access to Well-Woman Services

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has increased the affordability of insurance coverage by expanding Medicaid in 28 states8 and providing discounted insurance plans to low-income consumers. Under the ACA, preventative services, like women’s wellness exams and vaccines, are provided by Medicaid and plans through the Marketplace without co-pays. While this is the case, programs and clinics that provide free or low cost preventative health screenings and vaccines are important to the women who remain uninsured (due to the cost or their eligibility) and rely on those programs. Be a women’s health advocate and fight to protect the programs that allow women to be in control of their cervical health!

Programs for Low Cost or Free Pap smears and HPV Vaccines

Written by Cristina Turino, Research Assistant and UIC MPH/MBA Candidate

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Prevent cervical cancer [Infographic]. Retrieved from


1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Cervical cancer trends. Retrieved from

2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Cervical cancer statistics. Retrieved from

3Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). What should I know about screening? Retrieved from

4Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Human papillomavirus (HPV) –Associated cancers. Retrieved from

5The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2014). Cervical cancer screening. Retrieved from

6The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2012). New cervical cancer screening guidelines announced.

7Association for Reproductive Health Professionals. (2012). Health matters fact sheet – Understanding HPV vaccines. Retrieved from

8Kaiser Family Foundation. (2015). Current status of state Medicaid expansion decisions. Retrieved from

Meet Amy Solsman – Current MCH Epidemiology Student

Amy Solsman (right) with a friend in Shalisi, South Africa

Before moving to Chicago to study Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Epidemiology at UIC, Amy Solsman spent two years in Shalisi, a rural village in South Africa, with the Peace Corps teaching math to 120 5th graders. While not a regular element of the math curriculum, Amy taught her students about HIV prevention and contraception. She felt that this was especially important due to the high prevalence of HIV in the area and the relative silence and stigma surrounding the virus in the village. She taught her students about dental hygiene and good tooth brushing habits. Amy also established a Permagarden Committee that created a school garden and provided nutritional education. Her passion to improve the health literacy and the health status of her students was a result from, in part, bearing witness to the unjust, negative consequences of a lack of access to resources and health care.

unnamedAmy said that working for a year at the Boys and Girls Club and her two years as a math teacher in South Africa “helps me keep perspective in the classroom because if you want to make a difference, you have to understand who you are serving.” The skills she is learning at the UIC School of Public Health (UIC SPH) are helping her further put her passion into practice. Amy is MPH candidate with a concentration in Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology. She feels that she is getting tangible and applicable skills in research and data analysis, and the Maternal and Child Health Program’s leadership training is better preparing her for the workforce where capabilities in leadership are needed and valued.

Amy chose the Amy 2UIC SPH because of the MCH Epidemiology Program, and because the curriculum incorporates community based participatory research (CBPR) models and has a focus on local, state-wide, and national public health issues. Upon acceptance to UIC, Amy was awarded the Irving Harris Maternal and Child Health Assistantship. As a Research Assistant for the MCHP, Amy has had the opportunity to work on a study with Dr. Arden Handler that focuses on improving the utilization of the postpartum visit for increasing postpartum contraception use.

Written by Cristina Turino, Research Assistant and UIC MPH/MBA Candidate

MCH Alumna Success Story—Dr. Bozlak Combating Childhood Obesity


Dr. Christine Bozlak, PhD, MPH
Assistant Professor, University at Albany School of Public Health
Department of Health Policy, Management, and Behavior

Dr. Christine Bozlak feels that her choice to attend the UIC Maternal and Child Health Program was “the best thing that could have happened,” because she was given unique teaching experiences, was part of a talented and supportive cohort, and had wonderful mentors who she continues to work with today. After completing her undergraduate and MPH in smaller community settings, Dr. Bozlak decided to do her PhD at UIC partially because of its location. Chicago gave her the chance to work with diverse organizations and communities in an exciting urban environment.

Dr. Bozlak completed her PhD in Maternal and Child Health at UIC in 2010 and received the Peterson Award. She was also chosen as the recipient of the Donaldson Award, the most distinguished award granted by the UIC School of Public Health to an individual that demonstrates leadership, academic excellence, and community service. Dr. Bozlak is now an Assistant Professor at the University at Albany School of Public Health, where she teaches courses to graduate and undergraduate students about the emerging needs of the maternal and child health population, specifically focusing on childhood obesity and adolescent health.

According to Dr. Bozlak, “community engaged research is where public health should be.” She is passionate about community-engaged action research and is working on a book entitled Participatory Action Research with other authors that will be published in 2015 by Oxford University Press. Dr. Bozlak is also collaborating with New York State YMCAs to improve food offered in vending machines, promote breastfeeding, and support the implementation of nutrition and physical activity standards for their child care programs; an effort funded by the Faculty Research Awards Program at the University at Albany.

Currently, Dr. Bozlak is completing an evaluation project with Dr. Maryann Mason at the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC) of the Chicago Children’s Museum’s Made to Move Program. She is also a co-chair, with Dr. Michele Kelley and Dennis Li, of the American Public Health Association’s Adolescent and Young Adult Health Committee, and a member of the Strategic Alliance for Health at Albany County Department of Public Health. In addition, she is a member of the Leadership Team for the Alliance of New York State YMCA’s Pioneering Healthier Communities grant.

Dr. Bozlak is truly a MCH leader that is providing invaluable contributions to public health practice, community based participatory research, and her local community!

Written by Cristina Turino, UIC Research Assistant and UIC MCH MPH Candidate

Want to Know More About MCH?

The students in the University of Washington Maternal and Child Health
(MCH) Program and in other MCH schools of public health training
programs nationwide created a visual narrative of the public health work
and research they are doing in their communities. The presentation was done with the help of Charlotte Noble and the University of South Florida MCH Program.

You can view the presentation here.  If you are interested in engaging in work that improves the health and well-being of women, men, children, and families then you will enjoy this presentation – it may even give you ideas about how you can make a difference!

The stories help illustrate how MCH makes a difference in the lives of
women and children.

National Children’s Study: Dr. Handler PI for the Greater Chicago Study Center

Dr. Arden Handler, Co-Director of the Maternal and Child Health Program and Professor in the Community Health Sciences division at the UIC School of Public Health, is the principal investigator for the Greater Chicago Study Center of the National Children’s Study.

You can view a segment about the study on WGN and/or read the press release below.

MEDIA CONTACT: Erin White at (847) 491-4888 or


Families can help researchers by providing information that is expected to improve the health and development of children for generations to come

CHICAGO — Why are so many babies born prematurely? Why do so many American children suffer from asthma, autism, obesity, behavior disorders and other health problems? Greater Chicago-area families have a unique opportunity to help better understand and prevent these conditions by participating in the National Children’s Study (NCS).

Starting this month, the National Children’s Study-Greater Chicago Study Center, which includes Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Chicago and the National Opinion Research Center, will begin enrolling Chicago-area pregnant women and women who may become pregnant in the study.

The study will then follow the children and their families from before birth until age 21 to help determine how family history and physical and social environments influence their health.

Feinberg received a seven-year, $32-million contract from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to conduct the National Children’s Study in the greater Chicago area.

“By participating in this study, women and their families can really contribute to understanding and improving the health of children in their neighborhoods and across the United States,” said Jane Holl, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics and preventive medicine at Feinberg and attending physician at Children’s Memorial Hospital. “All information gathered will be held in the highest confidentiality and privacy.”

Four thousand participants in Cook, DuPage and Will counties will ultimately participate in the study. The research will focus on how key factors influence children’s health and well-being, including what they eat and drink, the air they breathe, the safety of their neighborhoods, their family history, who cares for them, and how often they see a doctor.

Specimens will be collected at birth and, over time, other samples such as blood and hair and in-depth cognitive, developmental, and physical health assessments will be collected, Holl said. Soil, water and other samples from the physical environment will also be gathered.

“We are never going to be able to effectively prevent childhood health conditions until we fully understand how and what contributes to them,” said Holl, the principal investigator of the study.

The National Children’s Study-Greater Chicago Study Center is one of 105 National Children’s Study locations around the United States. More than 100,000 children, representative of the entire population of American children, will be included in the study.

“There has never been a study as large or as long before,” Holl said. “Longitudinal studies about children have been done but none have gathered as much health information, as well as specimens from the children, parents, and the environment.”

Letters with more information are being mailed to households asking women and families to call the National Children’s Study-Greater Chicago Study Center to find out if they are eligible to participate in the study.

To find out more about the National Children’s Study-Greater Chicago Study Center, visit:

Potential participants can call:  1.866.315.7124

Evidence-Based Challenges in MCH

In 2008, the UIC MCH Program developed four case studies for use in the 2008 MCH Leadership Retreat: Leadership, Legacy, and Community. The case studies address common evidence-based challenges in MCH: 1) The Intervention Works but Not for the Intended Problem: The Case of Prenatal Care and Low Birth Weight/Prematurity, 2) The Intervention Works But There is More Adherence/Uptake in Some Populations: The Case of Breastfeeding, 3) There is Deep Commitment to an Intervention by Some Key Groups but the Evidence Base is Limited: The Case of the Medical Home Model, 4) The Problem is Significant but There is No Known Prevention Intervention: The Case of Autism.

Each case study was designed to be used as the basis for a 3-hour workshop that will help you take a closer look at the evidence-based challenges we face in MCH. In the links below, you will find an overview of the case, a copy of the case study, discussion questions, discussion guidelines, facilitator instructions, and references. Please feel free to use as is or make modifications that suit your individual agency/organizational needs.

Links to the Case Studies:

The Intervention Works but Not for the Intended Problem The Case of Prenatal Care and Low Birth Weight/Prematurity

The Intervention Works But There is More Adherence/Uptake in Some Populations: The Case of Breastfeeding

Infant Mortality and Racism Town Hall Meeting

Save The Date

Town Hall Meeting

In Honor of the 75th Anniversary of Title V of the Social Security Act

Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant

Infant Mortality and Racism

What is Holding Us Back and How Do We Move Forward?

Friday, October 29, 2010

UIC School of Public Health

1603 W. Taylor Street

(1st Floor Auditorium)


Free Admission

Join us as we celebrate 75 years of Maternal and Child Health (MCH) programming (Title V of the Social Security Act) and as we move into the future of MCH by placing increased attention on infant mortality and racism.

The agenda includes a keynote address by Richard David, MD, Neonatologist at John H. Stroger Hospital in Chicago.  Dr. David is featured in the documentary “Unnatural Causes: Is Racism Making Us Sick? Dr. David’s talk will be followed by a family panel discussion and a working lunch to identify action steps to move us forward together to address issues surrounding racism and infant mortality in Illinois.  We will also engage in a cultural sensitivity exercise to explore issues around racism in our society.

Lunch Provided. RSVP Required by October 15.

Please RSVP to Cynthia Jakkarigari at

312-814-4727 or

Registration limited to 100 participants.

Sponsored by:  Illinois Department of Human Services, the Illinois Chapter of the March of Dimes, the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition, and the Maternal and Child Health Program, Division of Community Health Sciences, UIC School of Public Health