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Alumni Highlight: Meghan A. Bohren, PHD '16, MSPH '12

Meghan Bohren

Thank you Meghan for sharing memories on being a MSPH and PhD student in our department and your current work.

Current position: ARC DECRA & Dame Kate Campbell Senior Research Fellow

Organization: University of Melbourne School of Population and Global Health.

What memories do you have as a student here in the department? 

Two of my favorite nerdy memories of the wonderful friendships from my MSPH cohort are how half our Family Planning class went out to get IUDs after Amy Tsui’s first lecture on LARCs, and making CycleBeads bracelets instead of studying for finals – we were truly learning to implement best practices! The small seminar classes, especially Donna Strobino’s “Critiquing the literature” and Michelle Hindin’s PhD seminar were challenging but safe spaces to learn during our training, and I regularly apply what I learned in my work today.

Did you consider public health during your initial training?

My undergraduate degree was from the College of William and Mary with a double major in Psychology and African Studies. I “discovered” public health during my junior year, which I spent abroad in South Africa studying conflict resolution and community-based HIV programming. Public health was not an undergraduate major at the time but felt like the perfect fit for me to bring together my interests in politics, gender, social sciences and health. I worked for two years after undergrad at PSI, which solidified my passion in public health and desire to pursue a MSPH.

What advice would you give to current students in the department?

A few years out from grad school, it is humbling to see the diverse and interesting pathways both my MSPH and PhD cohort have taken, and a great reminder that you are indeed training with the future public health leaders – cherish the time you have to spend learning together. As a hands-on learner, I found it incredibly useful to work as a research assistant to apply what we learn in the classroom to the real world. I learned so much as a research assistant and built lasting mentoring relationships with faculty both within and outside PFRH. In the chaos of 8-week terms, a pandemic, and setting exacting standards for yourself, remember to take breaks to connect with family, friends or just relax. Some of my best research ideas have been cooked during long hikes, miles away from my computer.

You have many accomplishments – does anyone stand out in particular?

In my first year in academia (2018), I redesigned the curriculum and taught two graduate courses at the University of Melbourne: Gender and Health, and Health Inequalities. Bringing together theory, research, and practice into a coherent course structure was a huge challenge, and imposter syndrome was a frequent visitor. With the mentorship of both old and new colleagues, and regular input from some awesome students, both courses went well and I re-discovered my passion for teaching. My favorite feedback was from a student who said they were able to apply principles of intersectionality theory to argue with a racist uncle during a family dinner… and won!

How has your work or research shifted to address the global pandemic, COVID-19?

While I am working on a few COVID-19 projects, my main work focus has not changed, as we know that maternal, sexual and reproductive rights, services and health outcomes suffer during emergencies and pandemics. For example, I have a program of research, implementation and normative work around companionship for women during labor and birth, and we know that many women across the world have been denied companionship during COVID-19 times. Likewise, we know from the West African Ebola outbreak that routine maternity services were disrupted: fewer women gave birth in health facilities or had antenatal care, likely leading to excess morbidity and mortality. I believe that we have a moral and ethical responsibility to continue our work in these areas, or we risk losing important momentum gained over the past two decades.

What lessons have you learned from the pandemic from a Public Health perspective?

Inclusive community engagement and clear public health messaging are critically important to the success of pandemic response. In Melbourne, the Department of Health and Human Services had a rockstar team leading communications, that used First Nations principles to engage with priority communities. Pandemics exacerbate existing inequalities, response measures (e.g. lockdown) have differential impacts on individuals and communities; long-term policy responses and rebuilding efforts must explicitly address these inequalities or we risk deepening social, racial, economic, and gender inequalities into future generations.

How has your work evolved to address public health challenges related to equity and the social determinants of health?

My work – including during my PhD and MSPH – has primarily focused on elevating the voices of people who are marginalized by systems of power. Two current projects I am working on are perhaps of particular relevance in the current environment. I hold an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award for a project “Giving mums a fair go: culturally-responsive care for refugees and migrants” that uses participatory and visual research methods to explore how lived experiences of gender inequality, racism and migration contribute to social disadvantage and poor health for women from refugee and migrant backgrounds in Australia. “Giving mums a fair go” is co-implemented with the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health, a community-based organization led by and for women from refugee and migrant backgrounds since 1978. I am also leading a systematic review (along with PFRH alums Nadia Diamond-Smith, May Sudhinaraset, and Özge Tunçalp) on interventions to reduce stigma, discrimination and bias in sexual and reproductive healthcare settings globally. This review will provide critical evidence for the implementation phase of the World Health Organization’s portfolio on the mistreatment of women during childbirth. I am passionate about improving equity in global health research, by co-developing research capacity strengthening activities with our research teams (e.g. through short-course research training), and mentoring researchers to complete the research cycle by leading data analysis and scientific writing.