Nicole C. Woitowich's picture

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Dr. Nicole Woitowich is the Associate Director for the Women’s Health Research Institute at Northwestern University. She is actively transforming the landscape of women’s health through her research, advocacy, and outreach activities. She implements programming which informs the scientific and medical communities, as well as the public, about the influences of sex and gender on health and disease. In addition, Dr. Woitowich serves as the Director for the Illinois Women’s Health Registry, which promotes the participation of women in clinical research and evaluates state-wide women’s health trends. As a former Presidential Management Fellow awardee, she remains politically active and advocates on behalf of women’s health research. In 2018, she drafted legislation to recognize January 25th as National Women’s Health Research Day which was introduced in Congress by Sen. Duckworth and Rep. Schakowsky, and locally endorsed by Mayor Emanuel. While formally trained as biochemist, her current research explores the impact of science policy on research practices and gender biases in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medical (STEMM) fields. Dr. Woitowich has held a long-standing interest in the advancement and retention of women in the STEMM pipeline and has created programs both at Northwestern University and beyond to this end.  In 2015, she was nominated to serve as a member of the Public Outreach Committee for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, due to her ability to communicate science to diverse audiences and her passion for making science publicly accessible. Through this role, she served as a co-organizer for SciOut18, the first national meeting of science outreach practitioners in the United States. 

My Blog Posts

Posted by on February 3, 2020 - 9:56am

The Women's Health Research Institute hosted its 4th Annual Women’s Health Research Day Celebration on Friday, January 24th, 2020. This event celebrates the anniversary of the NIH policy requiring investigators to consider sex as a biological variable which was established on January 25th, 2016.

The Women’s Health Research Institute has celebrated this date as a watershed moment within the biomedical research community and championed for January 25th to be recognized as “Women’s Health Research Day,” by Congress.

WHRD 2020 Panel Discussion

Photo: Drs. Renee Manworren (left), Talia Lerner (center), and Jefferey Mogil (right) participate in a panel discussion on "Sex, Gender, and the Opioid Crisis." 

This year, the event focused on “Sex, Gender, and the Opioid Crisis,” and featured a panel discussion with Talia Lerner, PhD, and Renee Manworren, PhD, APRN, FAAN, a plenary lecture by Juliet Sorensen, JD, and a keynote lecture by Jeffery Mogil, PhD

In addition, State Senator Robert Peters (D-13th) joined the celebration and shared his support for women’s health research and its role in health equity.

State Sen. Robert Peters at WHRD 2020

Photo: Illinois State Senator Robert Peters speaks at the 4th Annual Women's Health Research Day Celebration. 

Thank you to all who attended this event – we look forward to seeing you next year on Monday, January 25th, 2021!

Posted by on February 3, 2020 - 9:20am

The Women's Health Research Institute is pleased to announce the recipients for the 2020 Shaw Family Pioneer Awards.

This year's awardees include:
Erin Hsu, PhD, Research Associate Professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery for her project, "Elucidating sex-based differences in bone regenerative response for spinal fusion," and Steven Schwultz, MD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Surgery (Trauma and Critical Care) for his project, "Sex Influences on the Microglia Response to Traumatic Brain Injury."

Congratulations Drs. Hsu and Schwultz!

Established in 2018, the Shaw Family Pioneer Awards provide support for Northwestern University investigators who conduct or are interested in pursuing sex-based research. The awards also enable early-career investigators to conduct pilot studies that will help build their portfolio and enhance their ability to compete for larger federal grants.

Posted by on May 31, 2019 - 1:18pm

For Northside College Prep senior, Jennifer Tegegne, women's health has always been an area of educational and personal interest. Prior to moving to Chicago, Tegegne and her family lived abroad in Ethiopia and Kenya where she witnessed health disparities first hand, prompting her desire to pursue a career in healthcare. "I saw that women's health was often times neglected in developing countries and [now I] hope to work in increasing accessibility and advancement in the field," she states.

Participating in the Women's Health Science Program at Northwestern University seemed like a natural fit for Tegegne, who is also a member of the Northside College Prep Medical Club and Science Olympiad Team. "It was very exciting to find a program that helps girls like me to succeed in the male-dominated field of medicine," Tegegne shares. 

WHSP Alumna Jennifer Tegegne (second from right) with Director, Dr. Teresa Woodruff (far left), fellow WHSP students, and Northwestern University graduate students.

For the past decade, the Women's Health Science Program has fostered the next generation of female leaders in science and medicine. Students who are selected to participate in the Women's Health Science Program are exposed to a variety of hands-on laboratory and clinical experiences within the Feinberg School of Medicine. Led by Dr. Teresa Woodruff, the program has over 200 alumnae, more than 70% of whom have gone on to pursue a STEM-based degree.

Like many of her fellow "Science Sisters," Tegegne will continue her education in the biomedical sciences. This fall, she plans to attend Yale University and major in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. She credits the Women's Health Science Program as a transformative experience, "...[It] was hands-on, pre-professional and in a more mature setting. It helped me start a path necessary to partaking in research in college." 

"Taking part in WHSP definitely changed my perception of scientific inquiry," she continues, "it is now more clear that researchers are very essential to medical development in our changing world."

In addition, Tegegne was inspired by Northwestern students, faculty, and fellow participants. "I enjoyed meeting amazing and accomplished professionals in addition to my fellow Science Sisters who were brilliant and driven. I was able to talk to the head of the Feinberg anatomy lab and a researcher who was pursuing an MD/PhD. I got to learn more about different professions and got advice on being pre-med."

She encourages others to participate in the program not only because of its "welcoming and exciting," environment but because of the potential impact it can have on students. "I hope that this program is able to reach many young women because there is a dire need for more equitable Science education."

Applications for the Women's Health Science Program Class of 2019 will be accepted until Friday, June 7th. To learn more please visit whsp.northwestern.edu.

Posted by on May 31, 2019 - 8:45am

On Tuesday, May 21st the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Women's Health Research Institute co-hosted the Symposium on Interpersonal Violence at Northwestern University. Led by Dr. Traci Kurtzer (pictured, right), who serves as the Medical Director for Trauma Informed Care and Education, the symposium attracted a multidisciplinary audience of physicians, trainees, social workers, policymakers, and allied health professionals.

Marlita White (pictured, left), the Director of the Office of Violence Prevention and Behavioral Health at the Chicago Department of Public Health kicked off the afternoon with an engaging lecture on the impact of trauma on the health of women and girls in the city of Chicago. In addition, the symposium featured lectures on intimate partner violence, human trafficking, and updates to Illinois law regarding sexual assault.

To learn more about the topics presented, please consider visiting the following resources:

Chicago Department of Public Health – Violence Prevention
Erase Trafficking Clinic
Between Friends Chicago

Posted by on January 29, 2019 - 1:46pm

The Women's Health Research Institute is pleased to announce the recipients for the 2019 Shaw Family Pioneer Awards. This year, awardees include:

Matthew J. Major, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation for his project "Characterizing the gait biomechanics of women with leg amputation for improving evidence-based rehabilitation practice,"andBria Coates, MD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics (Critical Care) for her project, "Impact of sex and NOD-like receptor activation in prepubertal influenza A virus infection."Shaw Family Pioneer Award 2019

Matthew Major receives the Shaw Family Pioneer Award at the 3rd Annual Celebration for Sex Inclusive Science on January 25th, 2019. Pictured (Left to Right): WHRI Co-Director Marla Mendelson, MD, WHRI Founder and Co-Director Teresa K. Woodruff, PhD, Matthew Major, PhD, Robert Shaw ('70 , '81), and Charlene Shaw ('70). Photo courtesy of R. J. Garrick, PhD, NUPOC. 

Established in 2018, the Shaw Family Pioneer Awards provide support for Northwestern University investigators who conduct or are interested in pursuing sex-based research. The awards also enable early-career investigators to conduct pilot studies that will help build their portfolio and enhance their ability to compete for larger federal grants. 

Posted by on November 29, 2018 - 10:57am

On Tuesday, November 20th, 8 members from the Women's Health Science Program Class of 2018 came to Northwestern University for an afternoon visit focused on careers in medicine.

The students started their visit with a trip to the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab  (SRAL) to learn about Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation from Dr. Leslie Rydberg, Assistant Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. They had the opportunity to tour some of the facilities at SRAL to get a better understanding of the integrated approach to research, medicine, and rehabilitation.

WHSP Students Meet Dr. Leslie Rydberg at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab  

Next, students attended a special monthly Women’s Health Research forum featuring Dr. Suzanne Harrison, Professor of Family Medicine & Rural Health and Director of Clinical Programs from Florida State University College of Medicine. Dr. Harrison, who is also the immediate-past president of the American Medical Women’s Association met with WHSP students over lunch, alongside several Northwestern University medical students. Students had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Harrison about her work in Family Medicine as well as advocacy activities related to the promotion of women in medicine. 

WHSP and Feinberg School of Medicine Students meet with Dr. Suzanne Harrison

Later in the afternoon, students met with Dr. Shikha Jain, Northwestern Health System Clinician of Medicine (Hematology and Oncology), to discuss the subspecialty of hematology-oncology and the use of social media in medicine. Dr. Jain advised students on the appropriate use of social media as they consider their future careers, and discussed how it could be beneficial for networking.

WHSP Students Learn About Hematology-Oncology From Dr. Shikha Jain 

Lastly, Dr. Jennifer Pinkus, Assistant Professor of Pathology, organized a career panel for WHSP students showcasing a variety of careers in pathology such as pathologists,  pathology assistants, histo- and cytotechnologists, and cytogeneticists.

WHSP Students With Dr. Jenny Pinkus and Staff from the Department of Pathology 

The WHSP students look forward to their next visit to campus this spring, which will focus on the basic sciences and include a tour of the Evanston campus.

The Women’s Health Research Institute is grateful to all the faculty and staff who participated in this event and who demonstrate a commitment to the next generation of leaders in science and medicine.

 

To learn more about how you can support the Women’s Health Science Program, please contact Dr. Niki Woitowich at nicole.woitowich@northwestern.edu.

Posted by on October 31, 2018 - 1:48pm

The Women’s Health Research Institute at Northwestern University is committed to the promotion, advancement, and retention of women in science and medicine. To this end, we have a variety of programs that support women who are interested in or currently pursuing careers in these fields.

We are thrilled to introduce our team of interns and contributors for the 2018-2019 academic year. Please join us welcoming, Mary Cormier, Janki Patel, and Sarah Henning:

Mary Cormier is a junior at Northwestern University studying Neuroscience and Anthropology. Mary is interested in studying the social determinants of health and disease. She is passionate about health equity, and is involved a student organization which provides supplementary, peer-modeled health curriculum to high school partners throughout Chicago. She will be working with Dr. Niki Woitowich to develop strategies to provide access to clinical research opportunities to under-resourced communities via the Illinois Women’s Health Registry.

Janki Patel is a Master's student in the Health Communications program at Northwestern University. She has plans to begin medical school next year at Midwestern University, ultimately aspiring to focus on women's health. She is interested in community education, specifically related to women's health and the of social determinants of health on individuals and communities. She will be working with Institute leadership to create effective, and educational communication strategies related to women’s health research. 

Sarah Henning, MPH, returns as a contributing author for the WHRI blog. Sarah first began writing for the Institute blog as an undergraduate student at Northwestern University and then took a hiatus while she pursued a degree in Master of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Sarah is passionate about promoting women’s health, particularly, reproductive and mental health, and raising awareness about health disparities. In her spare time, she volunteers at a number of organizations which focus on these issues.

Posted by on August 31, 2018 - 12:21pm

The Women's Health Research Institute is now accepting applications for the 2019 Shaw Family Pioneer Awards. The Shaw Family Pioneer awards provide $12,000 in direct support for sex-inclusive research which focuses on the sex-based determinants of health and disease. To learn more about the Shaw Family Pioneer Awards, please click here

Previous awardess include Jelena Radulovic, MD, PhD from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Aline Martin, PhD from the Department of Medicine (Nephrology and Hypertension). 

Posted by on August 20, 2018 - 9:06am

The Surgery Journals Editors Group announced that they will require sex-based analyses and reporting for all human, animal, tissue, and cell-based research published in their journals. Similar to the NIH sex-inclusion policy, the journals will also require justification for the use of a single sex. This requirement is a likely follow-up to research which identified a significant sex-bias in surgical research (See: Mansukhani et al., 2016 and Xiao et al., 2018 for further reading). 

The joint statement was published within multiple journals this summer, and was most recently featured in JAMA Surgery in August. The WHRI applauds the 74 journal consortium for their efforts to advance sex-inclusive research and encourages other publishers to follow suit. 

 

 

 

 

Posted by on August 10, 2018 - 9:12am

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Yet, we know there are sex- and gender-specific influences that effect cardiovascular health outcomes. For example, women experiencing a heart attack are likely to present with varying symptoms and receive a delay in treatment compared to men, reducing their chances of survival.

A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science found that physician gender also impacts patient survival [1]. The authors examined over 500,000 emergency room medical records between 1991 and 2010 and explored how patient and physician gender relate to health outcomes. They found that female patients treated by male physicians were less likely to survive, whereas patients of either gender had similar survival rates if the treating physician was female.

"Over 15 years ago, two studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine identified that women with chest pain were not getting the same treatment as men," says Dr. Marla Mendelson, Associate Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) and Medical Director for the Program for Women's Cardiovascular Health at Northwestern University.

"Here we are with a current study of ER physicians demonstrating a disparity in outcomes: There was higher mortality among female patients treated by male physicians, but similar outcomes for men and women when the physician is female. Despite public awareness and education of physicians, there seems to be an inherent bias in the perception of clinical disease in women," she says.

Mendelson suggests that continuing education for physicians is crucial, "[It] can be addressed beginning at the medical school level, during residency training, and throughout the continuing education of practicing physicians, of all disciplines, involved in the care of women.

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The Women's Health Research Institute promotes awareness of sex- and gender-related health issues and provides education for researchers, physicians, and community members. To learn more about sex and gender disparities in cardiovascular disease, consider reviewing the following resources:

For Physicians:

For Researchers:

For Community Members:

References: 
1. Greenwood et al., Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Aug 6. pii: 201800097. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1800097115. [Epub ahead of print]

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