Using research to help improve health outcomes
Yrvane Pageot. (Photo provided by Ms. Pageot.)

Using research to help improve health outcomes

Psychology graduate student Yrvane Pageot concentrates on health disparities among minority and under-represented populations, seeking to involve these populations in research projects designed to give back to, rather than take from, their communities.

By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications

In honor of International Women’s Day 2021 on March 8, the UCLA International Institute is publishing a series of profiles of female Bruins who have overcome challenges in their quest to effect change in the world.

UCLA Global, March 11, 2021 — Yrvane Pageot began her higher education at New York University (NYU) as a psychology major on the pre-medicine track. “I always had the aspiration to incorporate psychology into my career,” she says.

A Haitian American who grew up in Rockland County, New York, Yrvane is now a Ph.D. student in the UCLA Health Psychology Program. The warm, articulate Bruin says two volunteer experiences as an undergraduate helped solidify her interest in psychology.

During her sophomore year, she volunteered weekly at an elementary school with a diverse group of students who frequently heard negative feedback from teachers. “It was rewarding to give the students the motivation and confidence that they needed to do their schoolwork and watch them succeed,” she says.

Yrvane also worked as a Child Life Volunteer — a communications intermediary between young children receiving medical attention (ranging from annual checkups to treatments and procedures) and their medical caregivers, which included a child life specialist.

“That experience was instrumental in showing me that it’s important to look at patients as people,” she explains. “We have to consider how different factors, including socioeconomic status (SES), play a role in how much control people feel they have over a disease or their overall well-being.” The impact of those factors on people’s health and their response to illness would become a common thread in her research.

Starting in her junior year, Yrvane began working as a research intern in the lab of Professor Marie Bragg of the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. It was in that lab, she says, “where I discovered my interests in health disparities research.”

After completing her B.A. in psychology in 2016, she worked with Bragg for another two years, doing research that examined the health impacts of racially targeted food advertisements in Chinese American and African American neighborhoods in New York City.

When she came to UCLA in 2018, Yrvane continued to apply her research skills to study health disparities in the context of breast cancer. She completed her M.A in a little over a year, writing a thesis that addressed the relationship between SES and levels of inflammatory biomarkers in women with breast cancer, using educational attainment and annual household income as proxy measures of SES, with body mass index (BMI) used as a third measure to shed light on the relationship.

“Yrvane is an extremely talented and dedicated student who is deeply interested in health disparities and how they can be ameliorated to enhance the health and well-being of marginalized communities,” says Professor Julie Bower, Yrvane’s advisor.

“For me, an important takeaway from my M.A. thesis was that socioeconomic status is multifaceted and taps into different domains, remarks Yrvane.

“It’s important to consider where people are and what they really need. The point of my research isn’t just to determine that some people have worse health outcomes than others, it’s also about what we can do about it.”

Yrvane is currently working with Annette L. Stanton, distinguished professor and chair of the psychology department, on a research study in collaboration with the nonprofit organization Carrie’s Touch.

“During her interview for admission to our Ph.D. program, Yrvane lit up when I mentioned Project SOAR (Speaking Our African American Realities), a community-driven study to understand the relevance and consequences of the Strong Black Woman concept for Black women diagnosed with breast cancer,” remarks Professor Stanton.

That concept, explains Yrvane, refers to an identity many Black women have been socialized to adopt: the strong woman who puts the needs of others before her own while continuing to succeed in spite of obstacles. “There are good and bad things about that schema; we are trying to disentangle that in the context of breast cancer,” she relates.

The survey for that study was launched weeks after George Floyd was murdered. “I was devastated by his inhumane murder and ongoing racism towards Black people in general,” says Yrvane. “At the same time, it has been difficult to learn about senseless violence towards Asian Americans sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.” In response, she is working on research that will investigate the effects of these negative experiences on members of these communities.

Another part of Yrvane’s work as a scholar is promoting diversity in the field of research psychology. “I come from a very different background, both personally and professionally, than others,” she comments. “So I may bring up a point that other people may not be privy to, or may not agree with. And I’m 100% okay with that, but it’s important for me to get my point across.”

For Yrvane, speaking up also means addressing problematic remarks when they arise in the classroom, research lab or wherever she finds herself. “Throughout my life,” she says, “I have watched female family members and mentors facilitate these important conversations.

“Being one of the few people of color in school settings for the majority of my life has taught me the importance of speaking up, even if it is a very difficult conversation to have,” she comments.

In one major project at NYU, Yrvane helped researchers — mostly women — from a variety of ethnic backgrounds create new research labs based on the values of diversity and mentorship. One of the major goals of the initiative was to attract students from diverse backgrounds to work in research labs, seeding different scientific fields with future professionals.

Yrvane sat in on discussions with the researchers, helped craft recruitment notices for interns and shared her own experiences as a student researcher during interviews. “In the end, I helped 10 faculty members create new labs. It ended up being a really great experience — representation matters so much,” she comments.

As for the future, says the Bruin doctoral student, “My goal is to provide meaningful contributions to society.” She intends to use her future research to help identify the structural changes needed to reduce health inequities and contribute to the design of culturally relevant health interventions.