Nicole C. Woitowich's picture

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 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]

Posted by on July 30, 2018 - 8:27am

Northwestern University is establishing a chapter of the American Association for University Women (AAUW) this fall. The AAUW empowers women through research, campus initiatives, STEM education, public policy, case support, educational funding, global connections, leadership development, and salary negotiation.

Launching an NU chapter within the AAUW will allow all students, faculty, and staff to share membership benefits including:

· Free AAUW membership for all undergraduates and degree-seeking graduates at Northwestern
· Priority for educational project grants and leadership development opportunities for students
· Advocacy for federal public policy that supports education
· Access to AAUW internships in Washington, D.C. for students
· Opportunities for faculty to participate in national selection panels for prestigious awards
· Access for staff and faculty to use AAUW programs to supplement teaching and programming 

The chapter is currently recruiting Northwestern students, staff, and faculty to join its leadership board which will assist in the continued launch, development, and implementation of chapter initiatives. If you would like to serve on the leadership board, you will be asked to complete and submit a brief proposal of interest outlining your goals, ideas, and availability to commit to chapter initiatives.

Please email megan.lenneman@northwestern.edu to learn more about current board positions available. All Northwestern students, staff, and faculty are welcome to apply.

Posted by on July 24, 2018 - 2:45pm

Are you looking for summer reading suggestions? We’ve compiled a list of some of the most recent reviews related to sex- and gender-inclusive research and organized them by topic. Check out the list below! 

Audiology
Sex bias in basic and preclinical age-related hearing loss research.
Villavisanis et al., Biol Sex Differ. 2018 Jun 13;9(1):23. doi: 10.1186/s13293-018-0185-7.

Cardiology
Female sex as a biological variable: A review on younger patients with acute coronary syndrome.
Bugiardini et al., Trends Cardiovasc Med. 2018 Jun 12. pii: S1050-1738(18)30091-4. doi: 10.1016/j.tcm.2018.06.002. [Epub ahead of print]

Sex differences in cardiac electrophysiology
Ravens, U. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2018 Jul 12. doi: 10.1139/cjpp-2018-0179. [Epub ahead of print]

Sex Differences in Cardiovascular Pathophysiology: Why Women Are Overrepresented in Heart Failure With Preserved Ejection Fraction.
Beale et al., Circulation. 2018 Jul 10;138(2):198-205. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.118.034271.

Endocrinology & Metabolism
Identifying the Critical Gaps in Research on Sex Differences in Metabolism Across the Life Span.
Reusch et al., Endocrinology. 2018 Jan 1;159(1):9-19. doi: 10.1210/en.2017-03019. Review.

Sex differences underlying pancreatic islet biology and its dysfunction.
Gannon et al., Mol Metab. 2018 Sep;15:82-91. doi: 10.1016/j.molmet.2018.05.017. Epub 2018 May 30.

Neurology & Neuroscience
Understanding the impact of sex and gender in Alzheimer's disease: A call to action
Nebel et al., Alzheimers Dement. 2018 Jun 12. pii: S1552-5260(18)30130-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2018.04.008. [Epub ahead of print]

Sex differences in Alzheimer disease - the gateway to precision medicine.
Girourard et al., Nat Rev Neurol. 2018 Jul 9. doi: 10.1038/s41582-018-0032-9. [Epub ahead of print] Review.

Sex differences in the evaluation and treatment of acute ischaemic stroke.
Bushnell, et al., Lancet Neurol. 2018 Jul;17(7):641-650. doi: 10.1016/S1474-4422(18)30201-1. Review.

Sex Differences in the Neuroimmune System.
Osborne et al., Curr Opin Behav Sci. 2018 Oct;23:118-123. doi: 10.1016/j.cobeha.2018.05.007

Psychiatry
The impact of sex as a biological variable in the search for novel antidepressants.
Williams & Trainor. Front Neuroendocrinol. 2018 May 31. pii: S0091-3022(18)30044-X. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2018.05.003. [Epub ahead of print]

Sex Differences in Psychiatric Disease: A Focus on the Glutamate System.
Wickens et al, Front Mol Neurosci. 2018 Jun 5;11:197. doi: 10.3389/fnmol.2018.00197. eCollection 2018. Review.

 

Posted by on June 15, 2018 - 9:07am

The latest issue of Breathe, the journal of the European Respiratory Society, focuses on sex- and gender-related issues in respiratory health. Topics covered include the impact of sex on respiratory function, sex-differences in bronchiectasis, the influence of sex-on respiratory outcomes in preterm neonates and in the development of childhood respiratory conditions.

The journal’s Chief Editor, Dr. Renata Riha, notes that, “Perhaps psychiatrists and psychologists have recognized that there are gender differences in behavior and response to illness, which evolve over time from childhood into adulthood, but there is far less research in this area in internal medicine, let alone surgery!”

This special feature is encouraging, given the fact that sex differences exists in the prevalence of several respiratory conditions including asthma, COPD, and pulmonary hypertension. To access the issue, please click here: Breathe (June 2018).  

If you are interested in learning more about the influence of sex on respiratory health, please consider visiting our resources such as, Sex Differences in COPD and Airway Disease in Women

Posted by on May 31, 2018 - 4:35pm

Did you know that on average, people spend approximately 1 to 2 hours outdoors every day during in the summer months? Some sun exposure is actually good for us, as it helps our body produce vitamin D. However, when we spend too much time in the sun without adequate protection we run the risk of sunburn which can lead to skin damage and ultimately an increased risk of skin cancer.

How is sunlight harmful?
The sun emits ultraviolet (UV) radiation which can cause both short-term and long-term changes to our skin. Short-term changes occur after a sunburn, as UV damage triggers an inflammatory response in the skin. At the molecular level, UV radiation has the ability to damage our DNA. Repeated exposure to the sun can cause long-term changes to our skin cells that make them more susceptible to cancer as well as cause premature aging of the skin.

How can we protect ourselves?
The best way to prevent sunburn or other harmful effects of the sun, is to stay in the shade, wear protective clothing, and apply a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15.


Don’t forget to protect your eyes as well!
Sun exposure has also been linked to the development of cataracts. The CDC recommends wearing sunglasses which contain both UVA and UVB protection, which cover the two main types of UV radiation.

If you are interested in learning more about sun exposure and how to protect yourself this summer, consider checking out the following resources: 

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