Crystal Garcia

Crystal Garcia, Ph.D. student, Epidemiology

Examines disparities during COVID-19


Hometown: Brownsville, TX
Faculty mentor/advisor: Elizabeth Chrischilles, Professor and Head, Department of Epidemiology
What is your degree program and expected graduate date? PhD, Epidemiology – May 2023
Please describe your research: Broadly, I’m focused on addressing health disparities and access to care – there is so much beyond medicine and medical care that is responsible for the inequities we see with health. Currently, I’m focusing on racial/ethnic differences in social distancing behavior and barriers experienced related to COVID-19 in Iowa.
In simple terms, why does this research matter? Racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, with higher rates of hospitalization and death compared to non-Hispanic Whites. We’ve witnessed similar with other noninfectious diseases; COVID-19 is magnifying disparities present across sectors such as housing, education, income, and personal safety. Understanding what characteristics of a person, their environment, or lived experience are most strongly connected to transmission prevention would be a step towards creating evidence-based solutions.
How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research? Immediately. Part of why I came to Iowa was the potential to get involved right away. During my visit faculty were very welcoming and open to my joining and learning from their ongoing studies. I’ve been fortunate to be on the on the same two projects since I enrolled.
How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa? Having worked several years after my MPH, my biggest learnings (or at least the ones that stuck with me) were outside the classroom when it came to applying that knowledge or new skill. As a member of a research team I get to collaborate in the exchange of ideas, while observing equally passionate and far more intelligent people in multiple disciplines. Mentorship has been huge in helping me formulate my own questions and strategies. Being able to attend a few stakeholder/community advisory board meetings has made me more aware of how patients and the community should be driving the research agenda.
What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation? I hate to admit this, but I’m still not sure where I want to be after graduation. I know I want to work in a collaborative environment and feel like my work is contributing to a greater good. I love being in an academic environment and being at the forefront of discovery, but there is also substantial work to do regarding the translation of research to practice, particularly in terms of equity, so anything that combines the two would make me very happy.
Does your research have connections to or implications for COVID-19? Please explain.  Yes – honestly it’s a little too close, as in there’s no opportunity for escapism, but it’s a good motivator and makes the need for more research on health disparities (and more researchers of diverse backgrounds) all the more imperative.



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