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New ETSU research center aimed at improving women’s health

Contributed • May 9, 2020 at 3:47 PM

East Tennessee State University has created a new interprofessional research center that will expand ongoing efforts to improve the health and well-being of women, particularly women from the Southeast and Appalachian regions.

The ETSU Center for Applied Research and Evaluation in Women’s Health (CARE Women’s Health) was formally established this year. However, its roots go back to 2017, when ETSU’s College of Public Health received the largest research grant in ETSU's history to fund research and evaluation efforts aimed at reducing unintended and teen pregnancy and improving maternal health outcomes.

Over the last three years, that project has blossomed into additional funding opportunities and an interprofessional team whose aim is to advance women’s health by engaging in research that informs policy and practice.

CARE Women’s Health leverages the expertise of approximately 50 ETSU students, faculty, and staff members, as well as collaborations with other universities, public health and health care systems and stakeholders from throughout the country. In addition to its main office at ETSU, CARE has faculty and staff working and conducting studies in Alabama and South Carolina. While the primary focus of CARE is the Southern and Appalachian region of the United States, its work has implications for women nationwide.

“When you look at indicators such as teen birth, cancer mortality or cardiovascular disease, women’s health is clearly not where it needs to be in rural areas,” said Dr. Amal Khoury, director of CARE Women’s Health and a professor in the College of Public Health. “Rural women carry a disproportionate burden of disease and disability.”

Examples of current CARE Women’s Health research projects include examining policies related to health insurance and to women’s access to reproductive services.

“We know that health insurance is a very important determinant of access to care,” Khoury said. “In the South, in particular, significant portions of the population continue to lack health insurance or they are seriously underinsured. We examine how health insurance affects utilization of services.”

And while access to health care is a major contributor to health outcomes, the Center’s work addresses the multiple determinants of health at the individual, health system, social and policy levels, with a focus on how state and federal policies and programs affect women’s health and health care over time.

CARE Women’s Health also complements and expands the work of other research centers at ETSU, notably the Addiction Science Center and the Center for Rural Health Research. Recently, CARE collaborated with the Addiction Science Center to study opioid use among women of child-bearing age.

“Women’s health research is happening across many disciplines and colleges at ETSU,” said Dr. Michael Smith, director of policy and programs. “We have a strong team of researchers at ETSU who are working together to improve women’s health outcomes across broad populations.”

In addition, CARE Women’s Health increases training opportunities for junior faculty and fellows and provides valuable research experience for students. Since 2017, more than 40 students have trained alongside the faculty and engaged in conducting research and disseminating findings.

The center’s leaders hope that its effects will be both far-reaching and close to home.

“As a husband, a father of two daughters (and a son), and a native of Appalachia, it’s important to me that the Center’s research not only informs women’s health policy nationally, but also supports the health and well-being of women in the communities we call home,” said Dr. Nathan Hale, director of research.

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