Future leaders in women's health

Future leaders in women’s health

Sarah Strom (left) and Natalie Contreras (right) will present their research at the American Public Health Association’s 2021 annual meeting.

Public health students take the national stage to showcase their research

By Taylor Utzig

When Sarah Strom was in high school, her best friend’s mother suffered from a chronic cough and shoulder pain. Strom watched her go from clinic to clinic, not taking her symptoms seriously, and experiencing months of delays in testing. When she was diagnosed, she had stage IV lung cancer that had metastasized to her brain and liver. “Catching them a few months earlier could have improved their prognosis significantly,” says Strom. “It was then that I realized that what happened to my friend’s mother is omnipresent and can happen to anyone I love.”

Strom experienced this again in college, this time to a woman who was told the lump in her breast was not cancerous because she was “too young to have breast cancer.” It was almost a year before she found out that it was indeed breast cancer and that it had already metastasized. “These experiences inspire me to find out why there are delays in diagnosis in young women and how they can be prevented in the future,” says Strom. She chose to study Public Health Sciences at the Parkinson School of Health Science and Public Health at Loyola University Chicago.

Now in her senior year, she is well on her way to making an impact on public health by developing research examining how breast cancer survivors under the age of 45 deal with their diagnosis. This fall, she will showcase this research at the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting.

“This research aims to identify ways to raise awareness of breast cancer risk among young women and their health care providers to ensure these women receive timely and appropriate care,” she says. “I hope that presenting the results of this research to a national organization like APHA will raise this issue to the scientific community so that more research can be done to address the inequalities women face.”

The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 43,600 women will die from breast cancer in the United States this year. Most worryingly, women under 40 years of age have a higher mortality rate and less representation in clinical research compared to their older counterparts. For this reason, little is known about how younger women seek and manage treatment after being diagnosed with breast cancer, and how they overcome the barriers that can cause delays; a fact that Strom hopes to change with her research.

Strom isn’t the only Parkinson’s student interested in improving women’s health. Natalie Contreras, a senior in Parkinson’s Bachelor of Science in Public Health (BSPH) degree, explores the benefits of community-based health centers and how they can improve maternal, newborn and child health. “Community-based health centers are often overlooked in the communities,” says Contreras. “After graduating in December, I hope to work for a community-based organization so that I can keep looking for ways we can improve these centers and improve the health of the people in the community.”

Contreras and Strom will be the first Parkinson’s students to represent Loyola at the APHA Annual Meeting, a significant milestone for the BSPH program director of the BSPH program launched in 2019. “When students – especially as young as college students – join professionals at the APHA annual meeting, they are introduced to public health practice.”

Empowered by the Loyola Jesuit Mission, the Parkinson School is committed to educating students about health inequalities and encouraging them to develop solutions to minimize these inequalities. “I am inspired by the work of the Parkinson’s Faculty and my fellow students to make our society fairer and fairer,” says Strom. “It gives me so much hope for the future to know that we are working to improve the world around us.”

Learn more about research opportunities at Parkinson School