Jeane Ann Grisso, MD, MSCE
Professor of Public Health
School of Nursing and Perelman School of Medicine
How does your work relate to global women’s health? Dr. Grisso mentions three personally significant engagements exemplifying her relationship to global women’s health: work with the International Clinical Epidemiology Network (INCLEN), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), and the planning committee for the Penn-International Council on Women’s Health Issues (ICOWHI) Conference held at the University in 2010. At the INCLEN, her role was to think about ways to incorporate evidence-based public health knowledge into academic settings of developing countries. Within these academic settings, the overarching goal was to train local leaders in healthcare research, and realize means to improving the equity, efficiency, and quality of the healthcare delivery to their surrounding communities. Dr. Grisso’s training programs were based in Asia, South America, and Africa, and she mentions that it was particularly fun to lead the reproductive health-focused group.
Then, Dr. Grisso’s work at the RWJF involved developing a program for immigrant populations in the U.S. regarding intimate partner violence (IPV). Despite this program’s location-specific implementation, with an exclusive focus on immigrant groups, she points out that IPV “is a very important issue in all cultures, all worlds, and all populations.” (While she might wish that while at the RWJF she could have touched the infinite amount of global communities in need of such a program, when it comes to doing the concrete, hands-on work like that of Dr. Grisso’s, ultimately one can only touch so many groups at once!)
Finally, of her work on the planning committee for the Penn-ICOWHI Conference, Dr. Grisso says with enthusiasm, “That was an honor you cannot even imagine.” The conference focused on taking global perspectives into consideration on the topic of urban women’s health because at present, the majority of women in the world live in urban environments. She goes on to talk about how this conference lent credence to the fact that the major change efforts happening in global urban settings, including right here in Philadelphia, are being led by women. Specifically, Dr. Grisso highlights the moving presentations made by two local leaders, Jane Golden, executive director of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program, and Diane Cornman-Levy, executive director of Federation of Neighborhood Centers and integral to the expansion of urban farming in low-income neighborhoods.
Thanks to the planning committee’s hard work, the dialogue, organizing, and networking that took place at the 2010 Penn-ICOWHI Conference ensured tangible support for urban women of the world who have the vision to be leaders. Dr. Grisso states in confidence, “It’s women that are the natural leaders in low-resource urban environments.” Why? Compared to men, women find it easier work in teams, are more “other” focused (on their families, communities), and operate less hierarchically. Women also tend to be the “survivors,” whether as a result of violence-related male deaths, or following men’s prolonged absence due to something like incarceration.
What are you working on right now? One of the grants Dr. Grisso has secured for funding has enabled her to form partnerships with various local community leaders to support their role in community development. Her latest partnership has been with Aliya Walker of Kingessing (an underserved area of southwest Philadelphia). Upon this partnership, Ms. Walker has had the means to develop an urban farm situated in within her neighborhood. The farm’s effects have been far-reaching; Ms. Walker’s work includes mentorship, leadership development, and entrepreneurial training for high school youth, all of which prepares them to farm intensively year-round to ensure that the farm itself will thrive (both harvest-wise and business-wise). Ms. Walker also directs community workshops that teach at-home gardening tactics, such as “container gardening” (growing plants exclusively in containers).
Dr. Grisso also received funding by another grant to test an IPV-related intervention among the workforce at the Health Department of Philadelphia, determining if it significantly affects knowledge and attitudes about IPV. The intervention involves training- and skill-based programs, as well as the clever distribution of IPV-awareness memos like mouse pads for employees with office jobs, decals for truck interiors for those with mobile jobs, and general postings in workplace bathrooms.
What are some of the most interesting applications of your research? When speaking of her IPV-related workplace intervention, Dr. Grisso emphasizes that there are many practical implications that could result from a successful intervention. Naturally, incidences of IPV could decrease. But what’s more, the decrease could translate into major collective benefits for employers, employees, and the general workplace. Generally-speaking, employers and employees frequently face issues of economic significance, including costs related to health problems, absenteeism, high turnover, and decreased worker motivation and efficiency. Dr. Grisso notes, as an example, that if you do a survey of women in the workforce the prevalence of IPV is about 25%, which is much higher than any single debilitating health condition you might normally see. Meanwhile, in seeking to decrease incidences of IPV, the workplace might see increased efficiency and attendance, and decreased health-related costs faced by IPV victims. Dr. Grisso says with awe, “Imagine if you could definitively show companies that [by introducing an evidence-based intervention to prevent IPV] they could not only promote the health of the men and women who are employed, but that they could also make more money. It would be a win-win situation.”
Then, in reference to urban farming, she says the application of her research is that it helps concretize the numbers for how much produce is yielded, how many mouths can actually be fed, etc. Such numbers help lend evidence to whether urban farming is a sustainable enterprise in areas of post-industrial decay (e.g. Detroit, Philadelphia, Camden). Meanwhile, these farms also have broad applications across the community members themselves (from farmer to consumer): job development, improved nutritional status and physical activity levels, and decreased violent activity and drug use.
What girl or woman stands out in your mind as someone who has influenced you? Just before beginning her joint appointment here at Penn’s Schools of Nursing and Medicine two years ago, Dr. Grisso says she met the woman who “…I think is the most remarkable person that I have ever met.” The woman in reference is Dean Afaf Meleis. She lauds the Dean as a “fighter” for her discipline, her school, her faculty, and her students; and respects the Dean’s “amazing” ability to lead through both strength and empathy. Dr. Grisso shares how moving it was to hear the Dean ask of her faculty in earnest, “Tell me about your mentorship successes?” For Dr. Grisso, this single statement reflected a most valuable insight: that the end of the day, “taking care of people” is the single best measure of one’s “success.”