Meet the Scholars: Jenny Guadamuz
Jenny Guadamuz is a PhD candidate in Pharmaceutical Systems, Outcomes and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. 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 am a first-generation American daughter of a hardworking Nicaraguan mother. I was born in Miami but raised in St. Louis, Missouri. I received a BA in Economics from Saint Louis University and an MS in Public Health from the University of Illinois at Chicago. My research involves examining the influence of immigration status (i.e., nativity, citizenship, and documentation status) and how it perpetuates health disparities via excluding the foreign-born population from legal protections and access to the social safety net.
What’s the story behind why you’re doing what you’re doing?
My mother was an undocumented immigrant who worked herself to the bone every day. While I had a happy childhood, it was marked by the difficulties our family faced because of her immigration status. Imagine a child trying to understand why members of their family cannot access health care they desperately need. These difficulties inspired me to advocate for equitable health care access in the immigrant population. I began this journey working as a health navigator connecting undocumented women with breast and gynecological cancer care. I transitioned to cardiovascular health, the leading cause of death among immigrants, during my master’s program and have continued looking at those disparities as I progressed into my doctoral training.
Tell us about a project you are currently working on that you are excited about.
I recently defended my dissertation proposal, “Immigration Status, Cardiovascular Disease, and Medication Use in the U.S.,” and the preliminary findings are very interesting. Traditionally, immigrant health research has focused on the influence of behavioral and cultural differences, but research has shown that structural inequities are the most influential drivers of disparities in communities of color. While oft-neglected, immigration status may be an influential structural factor because it is a determinant of socioeconomic status, access to care, and community resources. I hope that my line of questioning shifts the onus of poor immigrant health from individuals to the structures responsible for inequities.
For people unfamiliar with your research area, what is one piece of information you think is important for them to know?
Health is a human right, thus immigrant health is a human right. Immigration status should not determine if someone has access to health care in the U.S. While immigrants are on average healthier than their U.S.-born counterparts, social exclusions and inequitable health care access may contribute to disparities later in life.
Who is a researcher you admire and why?
I wholeheartedly admire my advisor, Dr. Dima Qato. She has dedicated her life to promoting health equity among immigrant and minority populations. She is a nuanced and critical researcher that advocates for equitable access to medicines and safe medication use. As my advisor, she has been supportive and critical to my work throughout these many years.
How has being an HPRS Scholar helped you during your time as a doctoral candidate?
HPRS provides rich and valuable training in health equity, policy, and leadership. However, the support provided by my cohort and the HPRS staff has been the most important determinant for my success. Completing a PhD involves a lot of ups and downs—it is a mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting process. It’s been invaluable to have their support throughout it all.
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?
It’s impossible to choose just one policy because I would like to end all exclusionary policies toward immigrants in the U.S.: no discriminatory ID laws, no international tuition fees for undocumented students, and access to SNAP and TANF for all income eligible families. However, I have to start somewhere—I hope my research can be used to advocate for access to public health insurance regardless of immigration status.
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?
I would go back to Hong Kong, where I spent a semester abroad and met my husband. Hong Kong is diverse, dynamic, and has amazing food! I would also love to reunite with friends, but more importantly, support them as they participate in pro-democracy protests.