Meet the Scholars: Gayle Shipp
Gayle Shipp is a PhD candidate in human nutrition, and she concurrently completed the dietetics coursework to sit for the RDN exam at Michigan State University. She is a part of the Health Policy Research Scholars Cohort 2016.
Before we begin, tell us a little bit about yourself and what your research interests are.
I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. I am the youngest of seven children. I have a beautiful little girl who is my forever plus-one when it comes to doing all the things I love to do, which include: traveling, exploring, and embracing new things and cultures. While I love to travel, interestingly, I have never lived outside of Michigan. True Michigander! I completed all of my schooling in Michigan. I completed a B.S. in Nutritional Science at Michigan State University and an M.S. in Nutritional Science at Wayne State University. Prior to beginning my doctorate, I worked at local and state health departments providing education and building relationships with communities to reduce disparate outcomes that impact the mother-infant dyad. My research interests include maternal and child health, diet and nutrition-related health disparities impacting vulnerable populations, minority health issues, food access and food choice in underserved areas, and community nutrition.
What’s the story behind why you’re doing what you’re doing?
Prior to returning to complete my doctorate, I worked as a nutrition educator with WIC at Oakland County’s Health Department. Motivated by witnessing local level nutritional impact, I wanted to make changes and inform policy at the state level. To do this, I took a position at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services as the state breastfeeding coordinator. I was excited to work within this role, but I still felt that was not enough. I was drawn to research and gaining a better understanding of how social determinants of health are influential in disparate outcomes affecting minorities.
Tell us about a project you are currently working on that you are excited about.
At this moment I am focused on completing my dissertation. I am really excited about having the opportunity to share the findings. My current research (mixed-methods study) aims to understand modifiable factors (breastfeeding self-efficacy and perceived social support) and how they influence breastfeeding outcomes among African American women. My research project was a component of a larger NIH R21, randomized controlled trial longitudinal dual intervention (breastfeeding and healthy weight) pilot study titled, MAMA Bear.
For people unfamiliar with your research area, what is one piece of information you think is important for them to know?
I will share a few quick points that were findings from my study and are applicable: 1) African American women face multiple obstacles when breastfeeding. 2) My study illuminated the need to improve the quality of care and social support provided to pregnant and postpartum women. 3) We need to continue dismantling barriers by utilizing a more comprehensive approach across the mother-infant dyad in order to improve breastfeeding support, outcomes and promotion for African American women.
Who is a researcher you admire and why?
That’s a hard question. I believe all researchers have certain attributes that I can learn from, especially being an early researcher and always wanting to grow professionally. However, one researcher I truly admire is my adviser and mentor, Dr. Lorraine Weatherspoon. She is well respected for her work and commitment to not only the dietetic profession but also the advancement and success of all of her students. I am fortunate and appreciative to complete my doctoral degree under her guidance.
How has being an HPRS Scholar helped you during your time as a doctoral candidate?
Being a part of HPRS is truly like having another family! The mentors, staff and other students have helped me physically, mentally and emotionally to navigate through my doctoral journey. Being an HPRS Scholar has also connected me to a huge network of other doctoral students, researchers and experts in various fields that also firmly believe in creating solutions to build a culture of health. In addition, I was provided with training that I did not receive in my doctoral program, which has led me to look at my research and the research done by others differently. I find myself often asking, “How can your research be translated and communicated into actionable, evidence-based practices and policies that are critical for creating a Culture of Health?”
In the RWJF HPRS program, we have worked with you to help you think further about using your research to develop policy. If you could use your research to change any policy, what policy would it be?
The maternal and infant mortality rates are distressing. These rates are steadily rising, and massive racial disparities persist. This is a complex issue, where we would need to change our entire health care system. One policy that I would suggest based on some of my findings is having comprehensive, individualized care provided throughout the life course beginning with the woman. The care would be provided prior to pregnancy that would span through postpartum. The comprehensive, individualized care should provide women with access to community home-based care from individuals, such as doulas, midwives, peer counselors and community health workers who could provide women with additional social support and resources as needed.
OK, here’s a fun question to wrap things up. If you could visit any place in the world, where would you choose to go and why?
The next place I would like to visit would be South Africa. I believe with visiting South Africa I would get a nice vacation amidst nature with authentic local experiences. I would love to go on a wildlife safari, and I heard they have one of the best parks!