The Department of Epidemiology is committed to supporting Alumni as they continue beyond the walls of the Harvard Chan School. The graduates of our many degree programs continue their professional careers as faculty members at a wide range of Public Health Schools and Institutions, as private consultants at local and global firms, research scientists working on the next breakthrough in Infectious Disease Modeling, and field officers for centers in disaster stricken countries.
As a leader in the field of Epidemiology, we are proud to highlight the outstanding work that our graduated have contributed to the field of Public Health and beyond.
Brittany Charlton, MSc, ScD
Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School
I was raised in Sonoma County, California by parents who met at UC Berkeley in the 1960s. My family’s dinnertime discussions often focused on ways to create positive change, which sparked my interest in social justice movements—particularly around gay rights and reproductive health. Being educated in a Waldorf school cemented values of acceptance, inclusion, and egalitarianism. As a teenager, I began reading critical theorists like Michel Foucault and Judith Butler, which compelled me to think about ways that sex/gender and sexuality were linked to health.
Wanting a progressive, liberal arts education, I attended The New School in New York City. The college’s strong social science foundation helped me to explore my passion for lessening health inequities. My first exposure to public health research happened in college with my senior thesis on sexual minority (e.g., lesbian, gay, bisexual [LGB]) health disparities. At that time, I also began to tie my academic efforts to public health practice. I promoted a number of health issues on Capitol Hill while working in the U.S. House and Senate before moving onto advocacy efforts while working for organizations like the Center for Reproductive Rights. I also had some clinical exposure during my year of national service through AmeriCorps at an LGBT community health center, where I ran a cervical cancer-screening program and coached women through birth as a doula.
Next, I needed advanced quantitative training to pursue my research interests. Bert Hofman taught my first epidemiology course at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and his enthusiasm coupled with active learning methods made me see the potential of epidemiological methods. I went on to complete both my masters and doctoral degrees in the Department of Epidemiology with an eye toward research and teaching. My dissertation examined the long-term health impacts of contraceptive use. For example, I used data from the Nurses’ Health Study I and II to explore associations between oral contraceptive use and outcomes such as mortality and reproductive cancers (e.g., breast, cervical). Acting as a teaching assistant, I was able to watch Julie Buring and others gracefully model different ways to mold the next generation of epidemiologists, which informed my own teaching philosophy. In the Department’s doctoral seminar led by Meir Stampfer, Eric Rimm, Gary Curhan, and Lorelei Mucci, I started to hone my research and grant writing skills, which helped me to execute and fund my postdoctoral fellowship and early career development award.
Those initial grants enabled me to complete the Postdoctoral Fellowship in Sexual Orientation and Health Disparities Research under Bryn Austin’s supervision at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, where I am now an Instructor. My current NIH career development award is focused on exploring sexual orientation-related reproductive health disparities. Compared to their heterosexual peers, sexual minorities are particularly vulnerable to having poor reproductive health. It may seem counterintuitive, but my research has documented that sexual minority youth are as likely to have had intercourse with the opposite sex as their heterosexual peers, putting them at risk for a wide range of adverse reproductive health outcomes. Further research has revealed that sexual minorities are more likely to have a sexually transmitted infection but less likely to have received routine care such as a Pap test—primarily mediated by less health care access vis-à-vis hormonal contraceptive use. I have also documented a substantially elevated teen pregnancy risk among sexual minorities, for which I am continuing to explore risk factors. A number of current students from the Department are becoming involved in this research through practicum projects as well as a Fall 1 class that I am leading on gender and health. I’m eager to see these collaborations strengthen, and contribute to the robust reproductive epidemiology tradition in which I trained.
Check out Dr. Charlton’s website for more information about her research