Jan 23, 2024 Sarah duRivage-Jacobs 10 min
At the start of this year, an article in STAT News called for 2023 to be “the year of prioritizing women’s health.” These 7 researchers answered. Their work helps us understand the past, measure what’s happening in the present, and support the possibility of better outcomes in the future.
While we could go on for hours about all of the incredible experts moving the needle in women’s health research, we’ve rounded up some of the year’s biggest wins. Here are our picks for the standouts in women’s health research of 2023.
For nearly 30 years, Yvette C. Cozier, DSc has worked on the Black Women’s Health Study (BWHS). The BWHS, which Dr. Cozier now co-leads, has followed 59,000 Black women since 1995. It’s the largest and longest-run study on Black women’s health. The BWHS is prolific: In 2023 alone, Dr. Cozier and co-authors published over a dozen studies using its data.
Dr. Cozier’s general research focus is the role psychosocial factors play in the development of certain diseases. Much of Dr. Cozier’s recent research has explored risk factors for sarcoidosis, an inflammatory condition that’s more common among Black people.
“We all have the same genes, but those genes are expressed differently across different groups of people, particularly in hyperstressful or low-resource environments.” — Yvette C. Cozier, DSc
The work of anthropologist and author Dána-Ain Davis, PhD was spotlighted in the fall 2023 issue of The Scholar & Feminist Online, the academic journal published by the Barnard Center for Research on Women. Dr. Davis is perhaps best known for coining the term “obstetric racism,” which she defines as a phenomenon that “lies at the intersection of obstetric violence and medical racism.” (There is now a validated research instrument that measures people’s experiences of obstetric racism.)
In addition to her paradigm-shifting writing, Dr. Davis is also a highly respected reproductive justice activist. She has served on the New York State Governor’s Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Disparate Racial Outcomes, and she currently serves on the Birth Equity Collaborative.
“I experience in my own life the very inequities of race and gender that I document in the lives of others.” — Dána-Ain Davis, PhD
This year, MacArthur Foundation honored Diana Greene Foster, PhD for the Turnaway Study — Foster’s landmark research on the physical, mental, and financial impact of having or not having abortions. The study followed 1,000 abortion seekers across 30 U.S. clinics for over five years. It led to 50+ research articles and a book published in 2020.
What have we learned from the Turnaway Study? A lot. One of the most significant findings was that 95% of participants who had abortions still felt it was the right decision for them more than five years later. These and other learnings have helped to dispel anti-abortion misinformation about negative mental and physical health effects after abortions.
“We can trust people’s decision-making. We should know that if the government restricts people’s ability to make decisions for themselves, it will make their lives harder.” — Diana Greene Foster, PhD
On July 13, 2023, the FDA approved the progestin-only Opill for over-the-counter use. This major step forward in contraceptive access was made possible by the 200+ reproductive health, rights, and justice researchers and activists in the Free the Pill coalition. For almost two decades, they’ve led advocacy and research efforts to promote the safety and over-the-counter effectiveness of birth control pills.
The Free the Pill coalition is committed to the reproductive justice framework, which highlights the intersecting systems of human rights that contribute to someone’s ability to not have a child, to have a child, to raise children in safe and healthy environments, and to freely express gender and sexuality. The coalition also amplifies the needs and preferences of young people through youth-adult partnerships.
“It really, truly could be a transformational change in how we access contraception.” — Victoria Nichols, Free the Pill project director
In November of this year, the Biden Administration announced the first-ever White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research. Carolyn M. Mazure, PhD, the founder and director of the women’s health research center at Yale School of Medicine, will direct the efforts.
This launch comes after decades of limited and under-resourced research on women’s health at the federal level. Under Dr. Mazure’s direction, the initiative’s goal is to “pioneer the next generation of discoveries in women’s health” and “improv[e] the lives of millions of women.”
“There is a tremendous need for science to move forward in supporting research that targets the health of women to improve outcomes for women.” — Carolyn M. Mazure, PhD
Origin pelvic floor physical therapist (and fourth-year PhD student) Jessica Swartz, PT, DPT was awarded $10,000 in funding from the American Physical Therapy Association’s Academy of Pelvic Health. Dr. Swartz’s research will focus on how physical therapy can be incorporated into postpartum hospital care.
“Our rationale is that acute care physical therapists are already in hospitals, treating patients in burn units, orthopedics, cardiac care, pulmonary care, neurological care, etc,” Dr. Swartz told us in a recent interview. “Yet, for some reason, women and birthing people are overlooked, despite the fact that research shows they can benefit from physical therapy.”
“Caring for a birthing person requires supporting their whole body and all of their systems.” — Jessica Swartz, PT, DPT
On June 24th, 2022, the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade with the Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization decision. The Society of Family Planning started #WeCount to systematically measure and report on post-Dobbs changes in abortion access.
In October of this year, the #WeCount researchers reported a full year of abortion care delivery. While there were 2,200 more abortions cumulatively over 12 months when compared to the year pre-Dobbs, that increase occurred in states without restrictions.
“We have to keep going to be able to provide people this essential care.” — Ushma Upadhyay, PhD, MPH, co-chair of the #WeCount steering committee