WASHINGTON, DC (October 4, 2022) — Karen A. McDonnell, PhD, has been appointed the new editor-in-chief of Women’s Health Issues, the peer-reviewed journal of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health (Jacobs Institute) at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH). The journal, which is published by Elsevier, is dedicated to advancing research that improves the health and health care of women across the lifespan.
Dr. McDonnell is an Associate Professor of Prevention and Community Health at Milken Institute SPH and a faculty member of the GW Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health. She is a public health program evaluation and implementation specialist with over 20 years of experience working with community groups, public health agencies, and health care systems both locally and globally. Her most recent work includes collaborations to develop and test a community-centered female genital cutting prevention project, evaluating the National Domestic Violence Hotline/loveisrespect Helpline, and taking a public health approach to gender-based violence.
Dr. McDonnell assumes the role from Amita N. Vyas, PhD, MHS, whose term as editor-in-chief began in July 2017. Dr. Vyas will continue to serve as an associate editor of the journal.
“We thank Dr. Vyas for her years of service to the journal and to women’s health research, including working with the editorial board to launch a process to make the journal’s publication practices more inclusive and equitable,” said Susan F. Wood, PhD, Professor of Health Policy and Management and Director of the Jacobs Institute. “We were also thrilled that Dr. McDonnell accepted this role. Her commitment to rigorous investigations to advance women’s health will help the journal continue to publish high-quality studies at a time when research is essential to understand the impacts of abortion bans and other laws that threaten reproductive autonomy.”
“I am honored to become Editor-in-Chief of Women’s Health Issues and look forward to collaborating with the journal’s editorial board, staff, authors, and peer reviewers who play such essential roles in the journal,” Dr. McDonnell said. “Our work publishing high-quality research and commentaries relevant to policies and practice has never been more important.”
To mark the occasion of this transition, Dr. McDonnell interviewed Dr. Vyas about her time as editor-in-chief of Women’s Health Issues.
Looking Back at Five Years of Leading Women’s Health Issues
Incoming editor-in-chief Karen McDonnell interviewed outgoing editor-in-chief Amita Vyas
Karen McDonnell: What’s an accomplishment you’re particularly proud of?
Amita Vyas: We wanted to not just publish studies addressing health equity, but look at how our practices as a journal can start to rectify some of the structural inequities that play out in academic publishing. There were things we had been doing over the past several years, even before I was editor-in-chief, like expanding and increasing the diversity of our editorial board and giving authors guidance on how they describe race and gender. But we wanted to look at the big picture and make a public statement so we can be accountable. I collaborated with several of our board members over a multi-month process where we worked hard to be thoughtful about recognizing the privilege we have and figuring out how to use it to make academic publishing more inclusive. Our group drafted a statement, which we then overhauled with input from other board members and published in our May/June 2022 issue as an announcement about how the journal is advancing health equity.
One of the things we’re working on now, as outlined in that statement, is revamping our instructions to authors. The goal here is both to make sure authors are addressing race, ethnicity, gender, and other characteristics in a thoughtful, appropriate way and to offer guidance to authors who might be new to academic publishing and need a bit more information about how the process works — for instance, what we want to see in a response to reviewers. Our board members are playing an essential role in this process, and I look forward to continuing to work with them as I change from being editor-in-chief to an associate editor.
KM: The past five years have been eventful for public health and for the health of U.S. women in particular. How have these kinds of conditions shaped your thinking about the journal?
AV: The pandemic has shown us how much social conditions affect people’s outcomes — both in terms of who is most likely to be infected or killed with COVID-19, which is shaped by structural racism and other forms of discrimination, and who is bearing more of the burden when schools and daycares are closed, which is shaped by gendered expectations about caregiving. And with the loss of a constitutional right to abortion under the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision, we also see inequities exacerbated, based on where pregnant people live and who has the kinds of jobs and financial situations that will allow them to travel to get care. I hope we’ll see states repeal their abortion bans, but in the meantime we’re going to see more maternal mortality, which disproportionately harms Black and Indigenous communities. And all of the harmful impacts that being denied a wanted abortion, which we know from the Turnaway Study and other high-quality research, will also mount and exacerbate inequities. Researchers are hard at work examining how these public health problems, the pandemic and abortion ban, are affecting people and how we can mitigate the harm and advance equity. The work of the journal has never been more important; we’re committed to strong science and making sure findings get out to different stakeholders.
KM: What are other trends you’ve seen in women’s health research over the last several years?
AV: In the U.S., we’re seeing greater recognition of our maternal mortality crisis and the fact that Black and Indigenous birthing people face the greatest risks because of structural racism. Over the space of a few years, we went from having maternal mortality review committees in just a few states to nearly all of them — and many of these committees are now looking at maternal morbidity, too, and recognizing that some conditions like preeclampsia and strokes can still have traumatic impacts on families even when they aren’t fatal. There’s a lot of excellent research right now that’s helping us advance equity, and I’m particularly proud of the work that we’re publishing in that area. For instance, some of the recent winners of our annual Gibbs Prize have indicated ways that Medicaid can help reduce racial inequities in maternal mortality and how “women’s” health providers can offer high-quality care to trans and nonbinary patients.
When we celebrated WHI’s 30th anniversary at the end of 2020, I worked with our associate editors and managing editor on a piece looking back at 30 years of women’s health research and policy in the U.S. It was a great reminder of how much we as a field have accomplished over those three decades. That includes scientific breakthroughs like medication abortion and HPV vaccines and important changes in how we do research, like requiring that women be included in clinical trials.
KM: What advice do you have for me?
AV: Karen, I am thrilled that you are becoming EIC for the journal and your leadership with the journal is more important than ever. With the Dobbs decision and other related attacks on reproductive rights, it’s a tough moment for women’s health. Although we’ve come a long way, we still have a long way to go until we reach the goal of a society where all people are able to lead healthy, fulfilling lives, regardless of what gender they are. As you make important decisions about manuscripts, you have a responsibility to uphold high standards for research but as important (maybe more important) is identifying studies that are novel and address real-time challenges and gaps so that we can better inform changing policies and programs. Not everyone always pays attention to the science, but some do, and it can be transformative. Remember that there are visionary researchers doing work that will improve people’s lives — and we’re incredibly fortunate to work with many of them.