The University Record, April 23, 1996

Women's health research is thriving at U-M, deans say


By Deborah Gilbert
News and Information Services

The future of women's health research seems to be reasonably secure, despite federal budget cuts and the murky future of affirmative action. Better yet, women's health research at the U-M is thriving and comprehensive, according to deans from the schools of public health, nursing and social work.

"The time [to press for health research designed to incorporate the vantage point of women] is right now," said Noreen Clark, dean of the School of Public Health, at the April 10 symposium, "Visions of Women's Health: Challenges for the Millennium," in Rackham Assembly Hall.

"Interest in women's health has spread far beyond the national agencies traditionally focused on women's health. Women now make up 51 percent of the U.S. population and there is not a politician out there who doesn't know it," she explained.

"However, the dismantling of affirmative action that is under way may affect research priorities," cautioned Ada Sue Hinshaw, dean of the School of Nursing, "so we need to be on watch."

"We also must continue to keep women and minorities on research review panels," added Kristine Ann Siefert, assistant dean of research at the School of Social Work.

Responding to a query about finding funding for small, in-depth "qualitative" studies, Hinshaw noted that, while there was some interest, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) still resists funding qualitative research.

"There is a new Office of Behavioral Research at NIH," Clark said, "that might be interested in including a qualitative component in a quantitative study. You can also look to fo undations for support," she added.

Influencing Congress is another important mission for researchers, Hinshaw said. "You can ask professional societies to send questions to staffers in the Congressional offices. Members of Congress use those questions during their hearings.

"In fact, when I was the director of the National Institute for Nursing Research at the NIH, I used to send in questions I wanted congressional committees to ask and then I would answer them when I was testifying!"

Clark noted that in the School of Public Health, researchers were examining health issues of women at mid-life; infections endemic to women; women and risky sexual behaviors; and quality of life for women with breast cancer, heart disease or glaucoma. They also were studying Alzheimer's disease in women; the health of women caring for Alzheimer's patients; population planning and health in women in developing countries; and teenage pregnancy.

Hinshaw said that research on women is a good fit with the tenets of nursing, which emphasize a holistic view of the patient, wellness and disease management. Researchers in nursing are studying the effects of hormone replacement therapy, exercise in the frail elderly, urinary incontinence, eating disorders and self-image in teens, substance abuse in teens and women, and pre-menstrual syndrome.

Social work has a long history of research in women's health, Siefert said. "The first studies of maternal health out comes were done in social work, especially the relationship between income and maternal mortality rates."

The School is now examining race differentials in breast cancer treatment and survival rates; domestic violence among international students; poverty risk and mental health; and depression and the transition to work by women on welfare.