New faculty welcomed to Yale School of Public Health

The Yale School of Public Health welcomes four new assistant professors to its faculty ranks--Gregg Gonsalves, Yusuf Ransome, Jacob Wallace and Peng "Katie" Wang. They bring widely different scientific backgrounds and areas of expertise--HIV/AIDS, the economics of health insurance markets, t he role of stigma in health disparities and using quantitative methods to measure how specific policy and programmatic decisions affect health.

They are joined by seven new associate research scientists: Amanda Brewster (HPM), Agathe Nkouawa (EMD), Nicholas "Nick" Rattray (EHS), Alysa Pomer (CDE), and in the Department of Biostatistics, Wei Wei, Ying Zhu and Hanzhu Qian.  

"The 11-new faculty add to the expertise, experience and diversity of YSPH and we welcome each and every one with enthusiasm!" said Dean Sten Vermund. "They will do great work and contribute to improving public health outcomes for all in the coming decades."

Gregg Gonsalves, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases

What is your area of specialty in public health?  

I am interested in measuring how specific policy and programmatic decisions affect health, whether these choices are around the treatment or prevention of a disease itself, or operating on more distal determinants of health. I use a variety of quantitative methods to do this and with the Yale Global Health Partnership ( www.yaleghjp.org)  seek to use these insights from research to affect policy and programmatic change.

How did you become interested in these topics?  

I’ve worked on HIV, TB and HCV for close to 30 years, almost all these decades outside of academia with community groups around the world. The problems I saw happening in the field often didn’t get analyzed or addressed scientifically, which meant attempts to understand what was occurring and how to respond to events were happening in a data-free zone. Coming to get a BS and a PhD from Yale in 2008, then 2011, was driven by a need to garner a new set of skills and tools to improve people’s lives in the communities I worked in, I cared about. 

What are your long-terms goals in public health?  

Making an impact requires rigorous scientific work, but also means acting on the implications of your findings, which may take you into advocacy and activism. Some researchers think this is not our job, but John Snow, the father of modern epidemiology thought differently about speaking out: "I had an interview with the Board of Guardians of St. James’s parish, on the evening of Thursday, 7th September, and represented the above circumstances to them. In consequence of what I said, the handle of the pump was removed on the following day." My long-term goal is to use science and activism to save lives.

What drew you to the Yale School of Public Health?  

Over the past few years, Yale has turned out to be one of the best places to work on issues of social justice and health. I couldn’t have better colleagues than I do in Amy Kapczynski (YLS) and Ali Miller(YSPH/SBS), my co-directors at the GHJP. My department chair, Albert Ko, has made an ongoing commitment to fostering this kind of work, because he knows that public health impact isn’t simply technically derived, it requires a bit of acting up.

Learn more about Gregg Gonsalves’ work at publichealth.yale.edu/people/gregg_gonsalves.profile  

Yusuf Ransome, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences 

What is your area of specialty in public health?  

My research investigates the role of structural and psychosocial determinants (e.g., social capital, socioeconomic deprivation, and racial discrimination) that influence racial/ethnic and geography-related disparities in HIV care continuum indicators (e.g., delayed HIV diagnosis and linkage to HIV care) as well as alcohol-related health (e.g., cirrhosis and allostatic load dysregulation). 

How did you become interested in these topics?  

I first became interested in social determinants and HIV/AIDS outcomes from first-hand observations of how context can structure one’s behaviors. Specifically, I saw how high HIV stigma influenced social connectedness of residents in two communities where I once resided, and how that dynamic in-turn affected HIV+ individuals psychological state which dampened their agency to test for HIV earlier and after diagnosis, to seek social support (e.g., transportation assistance) for help with accessing treatment and staying retained in HIV care. My interest in racial/ethnic disparities in alcohol-related health risk stems from an unanswered paradox in social epidemiology where Blacks (compared to Whites) have lower prevalence of unhealthy alcohol use and clinical-alcohol disorders, yet experience higher prevalence rates and higher severity of adverse health that are either wholly or partially attributed to alcohol (e.g., cirrhosis, IL-6 and CRP).

What are your long-terms goals in public health?  

For my HIV-related research, my long-term goals are to gain a comprehensive understanding (e.g., pathways/mechanisms and modifiers) about how social capital and other structural determinants shape the health of HIV+ individuals and communities (e.g., community viral load), and use the evidence to develop and implement interventions that can reduce or eliminate HIV disparities. In my alcohol-health research, I want to identify the epigenetic and psychosocial mechanisms that potentially explain the aforementioned paradox and then develop and test interventions to reduce or eliminate racial disparities in health. 

What drew you to the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH)-  

I have been very impressed with the faculty’s commitment to improve population health through interdisciplinary, collaborative research. I look forward to being part of this important endeavor.

Peng "Katie" Wang

YSPH gives me a strong opportunity to develop and strengthen my research through interdisciplinary collaborations with several faculty who have overlapping research interest, across other YSPH departments, and at centers affiliated with YSPH such as the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS (CIRA). Next, the SBS Department is very supportive of social determinants of health research and that is important for me. 

Learn more about Yusuf Ransome’s work at publichealth.yale.edu/people/yusuf_ransome.profile

Jacob Wallace, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Health Policy & Management

What is your area of specialty in public health?  

My research is focused on the economics of health insurance markets with particular emphasis on the impact of managed care in public insurance programs. This area of research is growing in importance, as the government is increasingly contracting with managed care plans to deliver benefits in Medicaid and Medicare.

How did you become interested in these topics?  

Prior to pursuing a PhD, I spent three years working on Medicaid reform for New York State. During that time, I saw first-hand the challenges of managing a large and complex public program that provides health insurance to millions of New Yorkers. I also saw the work that Medicaid policymakers put in day and night to tackle these challenges while always striving to bend state policy towards evidence. Unfortunately, there was often a limited evidence for state policymakers to rely on.

What are your long-terms goals in public health?  

My goal is to inform policy through research, education, and collaboration. My research focuses on the expanding role of private managed care plans in Medicaid. There is limited evidence on how managed care has impacted the Medicaid program and almost no research exploring the different ways states work with managed care plans. In the long term, I hope my work in these areas will improve the Medicaid program--and the lives of the Americans it serves--by providing timely evidence to the policymakers that regulate it.

What drew you to the Yale School of Public Health?  

As a Medicaid researcher, YSPH is a good fit for a couple reasons. First, there are faculty here doing exciting Medicaid work and eager to collaborate. Second, there is an emphasis on connecting research and policy, which is very important to me as a former policymaker.

Learn more about Jacob Wallace’s work at publichealth.yale.edu/people/jacob_wallace.profile

Peng "Katie" Wang, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences

What is your area of specialty in public health?  

My research broadly focuses on the role of stigma as a psychosocial determinant of health disparities. Specifically, I examine possible mechanisms underlying the association between stigma and adverse mental and behavioral health outcomes (e.g., depression, substance use) across various marginalized populations, including both people with mental illnesses and sexual minorities.

How did you become interested in these topics?  

As a doctoral student in social psychology, I conducted multiple experiments that considered the short-term affective and behavioral consequences of stigma. Although I found these studies to be both interesting and informative, they left me wondering about the long-term implications of stigma, especially as they pertain to health and well-being. To pursue these interests, I sought postdoctoral training at the Yale School of Public Health, where I learned to apply my expertise in quantitative, experimental methods to understand and address stigma-related health disparities. Taken together, these experiences motivated my interdisciplinary research agenda today.

What are your long-term goals in public health?  

I would like to develop brief, cost-effective psychosocial interventions that alleviate the adverse impact of stigma on mental and behavioral health by fostering adaptive coping and resilience, with a specific emphasis on addressing mental illness stigma among psychiatric populations. I strongly believe that, rather than being passive victims of oppression, stigmatized individuals play an active role in shaping their own social reality. Considering that changes in public attitudes and structural barriers often take time, individual-level interventions that bolster coping resources in the face of stigma-related stress have great promise in mitigating stigma-related health disparities.  

What drew you to the Yale School of Public Health?  

I have spent the past three years at YSPH, first as a postdoctoral fellow then as an associate research scientist. During this time, I have been very impressed with the faculty’s commitment to improve population health through interdisciplinary, collaborative research. I look forward to being part of this important endeavor.

Learn more about Katie Wang’s work at publichealth.yale.edu/people/katie_wang.profile

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