Nicola (Nicky) Hawley, Ph.D., assistant professor, epidemiology, Yale School of Public Health, happened into her work in Samoa through a chance meeting at the airport. “I ran into one of my now mentors at the airport in Chicago and he asked me if I was interested in a postdoctoral fellowship in Samoa. I knew I wanted to continue work in global health, but thought I’d be in Sub-Saharan Africa,” she relates. “I changed direction and went to live in Samoa for a year and fell head over heels in love.”
At Yale, Hawley leads a randomized control trial called STRONG (Strong Together Raising Our Next Generation) to improve experience of prenatal care and outcomes around weight gain. She describes her current work as an intersection between non-communicable disease and maternal and child health. Before Yale, Hawley was at Brown University where she was a postdoctoral fellow in the International Health Institute and in the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center.
Hawley says her most memorable experience is not academic, nor a research breakthrough, but the simple act of holding a ‘STRONG’ baby. “I was in America Samoa and a first-time mom who was extremely overweight had a very healthy baby after successfully controlling her pregnancy weight gain. She was two days old and I got to hold her. And, being a asked to be a god mother for a one of the babies. Those are my most rewarding moments.”
Although many strides have been made over the nine years that Hawley has focused on maternal and child health, she says this is still one of the greatest challenges facing the global female population. She says more women are becoming pregnant with preexisting conditions and rigorous research needs to be done to keep up with the diseases and health complications related to high-risk pregnancies.
When asked what she would consider success in her field, Hawley looks forward to saying “Done! They don’t need us anymore!” and stepping back and seeing that her work helped provide the government with enough tools to give Samoa and American Samoa the ability to lead the programs themselves. She sees Samoa as a model for the Pacific and wants to help them to a place of self-sustainability. Then she’ll be ready to say, “Where next?”