PhD Candidate in the Health Sciences Integrated PhD Program
Lindsay Zimmerman is a PhD candidate in the Health Sciences Integrated PhD Program’s Health and Biomedical Informatics Track in the Feinberg School of Medicine. Her research investigates the relationship between social determinants of health and cardiovascular health. Lindsay is co-founder and former president of the Cook County Health Foundation Associate Board and the former director of research for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Division of Family Planning at the John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County. She was recently named a Presidential Fellow, the most prestigious fellowship awarded to graduate students by Northwestern University.
How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
The focus of my dissertation work is to better understand the relationship between social determinants of health and cardiovascular health, using sequential pattern mining and machine learning techniques. My dissertation work will focus on the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, identifying patterns of social determinant exposure over young adulthood for better prediction of an individual’s cardiovascular health status at middle age.
Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.
Before my doctoral training, I served as the director of research for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Division of Family Planning at Stroger Hospital, Chicago’s primary safety-net hospital. In this role, I spoke with the women visiting our clinics and learned more about how social and neighborhood factors affect their health. To put this in context, I heard how difficult it was for an uninsured mother of two, working three jobs, to afford and access healthy foods to keep her blood pressure under control and to have the time off work to attend her monthly check-ups. This experience at Stroger informed my interest in pursuing a PhD in informatics and my dissertation topic of incorporating social determinants of health into the prediction cardiovascular health.
What do you find both rewarding and challenging about your research and/or work?
Designing research to study and intervene on the social determinants of health is very challenging. Social determinants are shaped by larger structural determinants of health that affect the distribution of power, money, and resources. Teasing out the effect of social determinants on health outcomes is especially complex because these factors are correlated and overlapping, work through various pathways, and affect individuals over the life course. Through my work, I have been able to build an interdisciplinary team of mentors spanning multiple fields, including epidemiology, cardiology, and computer science including Dr. Don Lloyd-Jones, Dr. Kiarri Kershaw, Dr. Yuan Luo, and Dr. David Rehkopf. With the support of this team, I am learning how to develop innovative data science and informatics tools to improve public health.
What is the biggest potential impact or implication of your work?
My dissertation research will be the first to incorporate a diverse set of social determinants into the prediction of cardiovascular health and will improve our understanding of the longitudinal pathways linking these exposures and outcome. This knowledge will help inform more effective social and clinical interventions for improving or maintaining cardiovascular health that are tailored based on different social determinant profiles identified in the target population. We know that as many as 95% of adults in the U.S. population may have intermediate or low cardiovascular health, therefore my work may have the potential to inform strategic interventions for over 240 million Americans.
What books are on your bedside table?
The Death Gap: How Inequality Kills by David Ansell and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
How would your closest friends describe you?
My friends would describe me as honest, loyal, authentically "me," positive, and the person to call when you want to throw an epic dance party.
Tell us about a current achievement or something you're working on that excites you.
I recently began working on a new project with a clinician and data scientist from The University of Chicago. We embarked on our project earlier this year with a mission of empowering patients to become partners in their healthcare. After interviewing over 60 patients and 20 providers, we have a better understanding of some of the pain points with patient-provider communication and the patient journey. Our insights have allowed us to develop and test a new technology-based tool to facilitate patient engagement.
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
I am most proud of my work as the president and co-founder of the Cook County Health Foundation Associate Board (CCHF AB). CCH is such a wide-reaching and important public asset that more young professionals needed to know about. After speaking with the Cook County leadership, I was connected with a like-minded partner, Josh Sorin, and we built the board from scratch and a $0 initial budget. The experience of building the board has been one of the most important and defining experiences of my young career. I’ve strengthened my leadership and management skills, effectively collaborated with a group of talented individuals and CCH leaders, and supported programming developed and informed by the CCH patient community.
Published: February 18, 2020
If you know a graduate student, postdoctoral trainee, graduate faculty member, staff member, or a member of our TGS alumni population who would make a great candidate for our TGS Spotlight Series, please complete this brief TGS Spotlight Series Nomination Form.