Alumna Focused On Global Health As Research Associate in D.C.

Back in January, Adrienne Formentos ’10 took time out from her new job as a research associate at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) in Washington, D.C. to meet with her mentor and former academic advisor at Dominican, Dr. Gigi Gokcek, to discuss Chapter 8 in the 2019 book Gokcek co-authored, Understanding New Security Threats.

Adrienne helped Gokcek write Chapter 8, starting in 2016 when Adrienne was in Ghana, working on her capstone project while attending Georgetown University. The chapter was entitled “Invisible Foes and Micro Enemies: Pathogens, Diseases, and Global Health Security?”

“When I was writing the chapter, I was unable to fathom how much our culture and sense of identity would change in this worst-case scenario. At the time I was thinking in terms of policies and resource allocation. We’re currently past this point in this COVID-19 pandemic,” Adrienne says. “Thankfully, there are brilliant people committed to figuring out what to do based on science and research, and equally brilliant and dedicated front line workers. If there’s a bright spot in any of this, it is seeing how some people have become that much more compassionate or empathetic.”

At the time of Adrienne’s meeting with Gokcek in D.C, the coronavirus outbreak was centered on China. But COVID-19 was very much on Adrienne’s mind as her job at NASEM is geared toward global health. She works in the Health and Medicine Division (HMD), which focuses on health care and population health research. She is currently part of a team working on a “Future of Nursing” 2020-2030 consensus study.

 In fact, prior to the COVID crisis, Adrienne and her team organized “Future of Nursing Town Halls” in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Seattle.

 “Those meetings were a way for the committee members to get a better insight into different aspects of nursing and health equity in three different cities,” Adrienne says. “The town halls were also open to the public, so I was able to observe the interactions between the audiences – often made of nurses and nursing students — and the panelists. A lot of my job is spent in a later phase of research, so I don’t do fieldwork. Being able to go to these cities while being surrounded by passionate nurses while I was there was as close to fieldwork as I could get.”

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Adrienne has been working at NASEM since March of 2019, two years after earning a MS in Global Health degree at Georgetown University. She was accepted at Georgetown (and six other grad schools) after graduating Cum Laude at Dominican as a double major in Political Science and English. As a research associate at NASEM, Adrienne finds articles, conducts literature searches, compiles sources, and helps build reports.

 “In short, I read a lot. But, I love reading and I’m passionate about public health,” she says. “Best of both worlds, really.”

Adrienne’s passion for research developed in a research methodology class at Dominican. Gokcek, now Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Education, was her instructor and what Adrienne learned in that class she still applies today to her work at NASEM.

“A good portion of my job is collecting and reviewing literature. Generally, I really worked on my critical thinking at Dominican where I had several assumptions challenged or had to accept difficult truths and realities,” Adrienne says. “This set a great foundation for being able to research with a more objective and critical lens.”

It was also the beginning of a mentorship with Gokcek and led to co-writing a chapter for Gokcek’s Understanding New Security Threats book project. Having been a Red Cross volunteer dealing with disaster services locally and with experiences of observing health care issues traveling around the world, Adrienne had a unique perspective and knowledge to lend to a chapter about global health security.

“There is a tendency to forget how easily one action in a faraway place or previous decade can and will lead to consequences we all bear. Non-traditional security threats are insidious that way; they build slowly over time and take advantage of weak systems,” Adrienne says. “In the United States, many diseases can be treated with new technology and medicine and vaccines, but not all people can have equal access to this type of care, so it creates problems down the road. The threat of new diseases is always there – disease-causing pathogens are sneaky and tenacious like that -- and we wanted to illustrate how prevention and vigilance and resources are needed to tackle infectious diseases.”

Adrienne says the last few months have felt – and still feel – surreal. She also feels fortunate to be working at NASEM as its values and practices align with hers. She enjoys working and collaborating with people who are committed to high-quality research and how it influences policy and society.

She is in a good place now she was searching for 10 years ago this spring when she graduated from Dominican.

“In 2010, I honestly had no idea where I wanted to be. I wanted to help people, but I didn’t know in what way,” Adrienne says. “After a few jobs in different parts of the health care sector, I deduced that I needed an efficient way to affect the most people. For me, that is through research. I love working with similarly-minded people, but I also love being able to read and evaluate how work being done in the field can eventually connect to policy change.

“Over the last 10 years, I’ve also learned that a work-life balance is needed. I learned the hard way that a career can be rewarding without leading to total burnout. I understand that this in itself is a privilege, so I don’t take it for granted. But I want people, especially new graduates, to understand their value is not based on one job or one company. There are so many other aspects of a career that make it worthwhile.”

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