Q&A With Helena Addison, MSN, RN

Penn Presidential PhD Fellow
2021-2023 Jonas Scholar

How do you feel that our definition of “injury” is changing, and how do you see this reflected in your work/field?

I believe the definition of injury is becoming much broader to include the myriad harms that people can experience over a lifetime and the vast causes and effects of those harms. With my research area, in particular, I appreciate the growing recognition that social-structural determinants are relevant to every aspect of injury prevention and recovery, as well as the growing emphasis on mental health. As I continue to research the role of incarceration on health outcomes, including mental health, substance use, and healthcare access–I do not feel out of place sharing my work with injury scientists and clinicians that focus on outcomes that are more readily associated with the term injury, like falls, car accidents, or traumatic brain injuries.

Thinking about your injury science work with formerly incarcerated Black men reentering communities, have you been able to play any role in advising policymakers who could potentially address health outcome disparities?

Either way, is this something you’d like to do in the future? Although I have not had any significant role in advising policymakers yet, the potential for research to impact policy was always one of my primary motivators for pursuing a PhD. In my work with formerly incarcerated Black men, I’ve gained quite a bit of exposure to how policies at the local, state, and federal level can directly impact health outcomes of this community—whether it is the city of Philadelphia’s diversion and reentry programs or the Medicaid Reentry Act at the federal level—such policies can have a significant impact on the resources that are available to formerly incarcerated people to address their health needs.

Can you recall any recent experience or exchange within your research that offered a sense of hope for how injury science can improve health outcomes in the environments and populations that you study?

I’m not sure I can name a specific experience or exchange. In the past few months, I have been working with a formerly incarcerated person for recruitment and data collection for my dissertation study and I have interviewed over 20 formerly incarcerated Black men; this experience has been invaluable. Community engagement has always been important for me, even working as a research assistant as an undergraduate student. It gives me hope to see how community engagement is continually embedded in the work of injury scientists, especially as we focus more on social justice and health equity.

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