Tuesday, May 7, 2024

A University of Iowa professor has been awarded a prestigious fellowship to research ways to achieve health equity amid political polarization. 

Julianna Pacheco, professor in the Department of Political Science, has been named a 2024 Andrew Carnegie Fellow by the Carnegie Corp. of New York. 

This year, 28 Carnegie Fellows were selected out of a pool of more than 360 nominations. Each fellow receives up to $200,000 to research political polarization in the U.S. and how to bring people together to bolster democracy. 

“I was shocked and excited to receive the Andrew Carnegie Fellow,” Pacheco says. “Previous fellows have gone on to write impactful books and are top scholars in their fields. I am humbled and honored to be among that group. This fellowship validates me as a scholar and the hard work I’ve done over the past several years.”

Pacheco says the fellowship will allow her to work on a new research project titled, “The Deadly Effects of Partisanship,” which will form the foundation for a book. 

She says physicians holding different political views raises concerns about bias in medical treatment, which can lead to health disparities — a trend that has always existed in areas such as self-rated health status, mortality, and life expectancy, but was further highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic.  She plans to investigate how differing political opinions can influence health outcomes and how physicians can come together to address health equity. 

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic, we have learned that health is not only driven by where a person lives, works, or grows up, but also by the political environment,” Pacheco says. “The political determinants of health include the rules that govern who votes, which in turn influences the power that individuals and communities have to advocate for their own health. Physicians are also part of the political environment. Political divisions, however, make it more difficult for doctors to work together to address public health challenges. This work is important because it speaks to how we can build health equity amid a hyperpolarized political environment.”

In addition to her research, Pacheco also plans to host a conference of scholars and medical professionals as part of the Carnegie project. She says the outcome of that discussion will be publishing recommendations on how to achieve health equity amid differences in political opinion. 

Throughout her career, Pacheco has focused her scholarly work on the intersection of political science and population health. She has investigated the relationship between voting and health and, more recently, improving the understanding of how community political power influences health disparities. 

For the past two years, she has been involved with a project examining the link between political voice and health among Latinos working and living in Iowa. The project was driven by League of United Latin American Citizens council members living in Iowa and involves SALUD, a team of UI undergraduate research assistants. Results from the project will provide a guideline on how communities can promote inclusive, healthy communities where all members have an equal voice in decisions. 

“The Carnegie project will broaden and deepen these insights by focusing on physicians — not just individuals — and their role in perpetuating or mitigating the deadly effects of partisanship,” Pacheco says. 

Pacheco was a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar at the University of Michigan before coming to Iowa in 2012 as an assistant professor. She says she wanted to stay at a Big Ten institution after receiving her PhD from Penn State in 2010.

“I love college towns and Iowa City is one of the best,” Pacheco says. “Iowa City is easy living and a great place to work and raise a family. I love that the community values the outdoors and learning. I use the bike paths all the time and love hanging out at local coffee shops, like Java, and bookstores, like Prairie Lights. It also helps that the sports colors are black and yellow. As a Pittsburgh native, I am good cheering on any team that wears black and yellow.”