It’s been a big year for Beth Sundstrom and Andrea DeMaria, co-directors of the Women’s Health Research Team at the College of Charleston.
Invited early in the year to be part of a Science for the People podcast about contraception, the pair has now been named one of Charlie Magazine’s 50 Most Progressive for their groundbreaking work in women’s health and reproductive rights.
“We’re approaching women’s health from different angles, using scientific research in behavioral and clinical health, as well as looking at communication and social marketing,” says Sundstrom, assistant professor of communication and public health. “The idea is to empower women and girls by giving them the best health information out there. We want to give women a voice in their own healthcare.”
Since Sundstrom and DeMaria, an assistant professor of public health, founded the Women’s Health Research Team in 2013, they have partnered with researchers, clinicians, practitioners and other women’s health organizations to bridge the gap between theory and practice and develop community-based public health interventions.
With six faculty members, three graduate research assistants and 17 undergraduate research assistants, the team of over 25 is currently working on an oral history of South Carolina women’s reproductive health, an on-campus campaign for long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) and the development of a collegiate recovery program for CofC students.
“Our students come from all disciplines: anything from biology and chemistry to international studies and art history – and of course health communication and public health,” says Sundstrom, who specializes in strategic health communication and encourages her students to find their own academic identity as researchers.
Sundstrom’s new book, Reproductive Justice and Women’s Voices: Health Communication Across the Lifespan, is the result of her in-depth interviews with women about how they perceived health issues and how they make decisions about their health.
“What I found was that women trust their doctors, but they really negotiate their information: Their family and friends actually have more influence in their health decisions. Digging in further, we find that they’re looking for voices of other women – personal experiences from lay experts,” says Sundstrom, noting that women tend to seek out these resources online. “They want their information online. They’re savvy about negotiating information and knowing what’s valid. So, as public health communicators, this is where we can reach them. They want reliable sites where they can hear from other women.”
To learn more about the findings in Sundstrom’s book, watch this webinar, hosted by the South Carolina Coalition for Healthy Families.