NIEHS Observes Women’s History Month
NIEHS kicked off national Women’s History Month with the 2019 Spirit Lecture by Dr. Germaine Louis, an internationally recognized expert on the impact of environmental influences—such as endocrine disruptors, diet and exercise—on fertility. She is dean of the College of Health and Human Services at George Mason University and a professor in the department of global and community health.
In her talk, “A Winding Path to a Rewarding Career in Public Health,” Louis emphasized the strengths of a nonlinear career trajectory. She followed a childhood dream and trained and worked as a registered nurse at Millard Fillmore Hospital in Buffalo, N.Y., where she was first exposed to public health. She promptly fell in love with the field.
Studying reproductive epidemiology in graduate school at the State University of New York at Buffalo, Louis was discouraged by the scarcity of training grants available to students interested in the subject. She continued to work as a nurse to support herself and her family.
In 2000, Louis was invited to be a senior investigator and chief of the Epidemiology Branch at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. She recalled that it was easy to say yes to the job. “Doing risky, impactful work that can’t be done on the grant mechanism—it was really seducing to somebody like me.”
She also recognized that the position would enable her to encourage initiatives that highlight public health research. “It would be an opportunity to influence and advocate for not only epidemiology, but also public health in general,” she said.
Later, as a division director in NICHD, Louis helped develop training and research opportunities that she wished had been available to her. For example, working with the Society of Pediatric and Perinatal Epidemiological Research and the Canadian Institute for Health Research, she laid out a plan to enhance reproductive and perinatal epidemiology through training grants and a summer institute, respectively. Louis went on to co-edit a textbook on reproductive and perinatal epidemiology that stemmed from the summer institute’s curriculum.
Today, Louis calls upon all her previous work experiences as a nurse, professor and researcher in her role as dean at George Mason University. She said that these varied life experiences give her a stronger, more interdisciplinary approach, which in turn, makes her a better leader, professor and mentor.
“[Equally] important are my roles as daughter, niece, friend, colleague, wife, mother and grandmother, as they ground my career and keep me righted as a researcher,” she said.