9 February 2021
By Evan See
Image provided by Jeannette Ickovics
Jeannette Ickovics, Professor of Social Sciences (Public Health and Psychology) at Yale-NUS College, was recently elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research (ABMR). Prof Ickovics, who is Dean of Faculty at the College, is being recognised by the prestigious Academy for her contributions to science.
Established in 1978, the ABMR promotes the study of behavioural science applied to medicine, and recognises established scientists and thought leaders in the field.
“I felt humbled and proud to have been selected,” Prof Ickovics said about the fellowship. “Many of the elected members are colleagues whose work I have admired throughout my career, and some I have had the privilege of working with collaboratively,” she added.
A quick glance at Prof Ickovics’ research and achievements reveals that her work is as interdisciplinary as it is innovative. She has made numerous contributions to the fields of behavioural medicine, psychology, epidemiology and public health. Much of her research involves investigating the interplay of complex biomedical, behavioural, social and psychological factors that influence individual and community health.
Strongly committed to promoting health equity, Prof Ickovics frequently examines challenges faced by those often marginalised by the healthcare system and by society. “Health equity provides a foundation for strong communities and strong nations. Assuring that all people have opportunities for good health relies on fundamental underpinnings like removing obstacles to poverty and discrimination as well as providing opportunities for quality education, housing and safety. I see this is a moral imperative.”
Her primary area of research has been in maternal and child health, with a focus on women and families from traditionally vulnerable and underserved populations. Recognising preterm birth as one of the leading causes of infant morbidity and mortality, and representing extreme racial and ethnic health disparities, Prof Ickovics and her research team have conducted randomised controlled trials in five cities in the United States to compare an innovative model of group prenatal care to standard individual care. They documented a 33percent reduction in preterm delivery rates. Moreover, all perinatal and postpartum outcomes were as good or better for women in group care, such as fewer delivery complications, less depression, and higher rates of breastfeeding. Based on this work, group prenatal care has been implemented globally, and has been recognised as “innovative” as part of the Harvard Health Acceleration Challenge and the Hemsley Challenge.
Prof Ickovics and her team have also led community-based interventions addressing obesity, a leading cause of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. They have worked directly with neighbourhoods and schools in New Haven, Connecticut to form local partnerships, empower residents, and provide resources to promote wellness. In a large study with middle-school students in which they implemented a series of nutrition and physical activity interventions, they documented a 7percent reduction in body mass index (a measure of obesity) over four years.
Prof Ickovics began her studies as a liberal arts student at Muhlenberg College in the United States, before pursuing postgraduate degrees at George Washington University. After receiving her PhD in 1989, Prof Ickovics joined Yale University, where she has worked for more than 30 years. She joined Yale-NUS as a visiting professor in 2017, before becoming Dean of Faculty in 2018.
“It has been a great privilege to teach and work here at Yale-NUS College,” she said. “I have greatly enjoyed teaching in the classroom and beyond – including facilitating a week-long Learning Across Boundaries (LAB) programme on health and community development in Northern Thailand and mentoring students for their capstone projects. The students here are exceptionally smart, thoughtful and engaged.”
In her spare time, she enjoys a dedicated yoga practice, swimming, eating her way around Singapore (from hawker centres to high-end restaurants), and spending time with her husband and sons.