Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of health states or diseases at the population level. It is one of the main areas of study of academic public health. Perinatal epidemiology encompasses health characteristics and outcomes surrounding birth, from pregnancy through the postpartum period and including newborn health. All these aspects of the field lead to an impactful and meaningful career, which Valery attributes to some of the best parts of the job. “It is fulfilling to see how your research may have an impact on improving the health of pregnant women and newborns. In addition to working on my own studies, I love helping others design their studies and plan the data analyses. I also enjoy engaging others in discussion about epidemiology and maternal and child health through teaching.”
More specifically, Valery explained to us that one of her favorite parts of epidemiology is that it’s a great mix of science and the scientific process, math and statistics, and healthcare. “The issues we study do not always have clear answers, which makes it an interesting and exciting field. For example, there are risks from cesarean delivery that prevent it from being recommended for all deliveries, but in certain situations it is lifesaving for the mother and baby.”
Hamilton has a long history of connecting students with alumni and parents whose advice, expertise, and resources help talented young people achieve success for themselves and in their communities.
Epidemiology covers a wide range of areas, but Valery primarily focuses on women and infants. Some of the specific topics she works on include “preventing preterm birth, chemicals that may be harmful in pregnancy, adverse effects of the Zika virus and other infections, increasing the number of mothers receiving check-ups and preventive health care postpartum, and determining what medications are the safest and most effective for newborns being treated in a neonatal intensive care unit, to name a few. Currently, I am working on studies with goals of determining the optimal timing and medical treatments used when a woman’s labor needs to be induced for delivery.”
Hamilton’s diverse open curriculum certainly played a role in helping Valery prepare for her career today. When reflecting back on her time at Hamilton, she emphasized how her courses were instrumental in providing a foundation for the work she does. “Specifically, (1) math courses, especially statistics, (2) the lab component of science courses and my senior thesis research, and (3) writing assignments across courses were a great basis for graduate school and tasks I do regularly. In addition, my overall Hamilton experienced has shaped my life and career in large and small ways that I could never fully enumerate!”
Valery Danilack '06, a biochemistry and dance double major, earned a master's degree in public health from Yale before earning a Ph.D. in epidemiology from Brown University. Valery conducts research at the Women & Infants Hospital in Rhode Island and at the Brown University School of Public Health.