The health care industry is powered by women. 

Nearly 80 percent of workers in health care and social assistance fields are women. Yet, according to the American College of Healthcare Executives, a higher proportion of men, 57 percent, are the key decision-makers and hold the roles in general management compared to 44 percent of women. 

One Ball State initiative of the newly established College of Health is working to empower women to change those disparities. 

Led by Cathy Whaley, director of the Northeast Indiana Area Health Education Center (AHEC) and Jagdish Khubchandani, associate professor of health science in the Department of Nutrition and Health Science, the College of Health’s DISCOVERY project was created to train and guide female undergraduate disadvantaged students on how to conduct public health and medical research.

After applying and being denied multiple times, the group was awarded $17,181 by Discovery, a women's philanthropic group established to support projects and programs at Ball State. 

“This is a 10-session certificate program that is the first of its kind in the Midwestern U.S.,” Khubchandani said. “I thought this would be a nice way to capture student empowerment through a unique program.”

The year-long project, coordinated by graduate student Megan Smith, consists of a combination of interactive group activities, skill building assignments, and talks from experts in the field of health and medicine, Khubchandani said. Students also learn about federal guidelines and protocols on how to do research, create their own project and implement their ideas.

“Women in research in healthcare, typically, is a minority itself and since there aren’t a lot of women in healthcare research, our goal is to give these students the foundation to step into that world of research later on in life,” Smith said. 

Out of the 50 students who applied, 16 were chosen to participate in the initiative, and each were given the opportunity to choose what they would like to research. 

Some students are conducting research in areas including supplements and nutrition, mental disorders and diseases, like Tyler Ann Smith, a junior public education and promotion major who is focusing on breast cancer. 

Tyler Ann is researching breast cancer prevalence, specifically when someone is diagnosed, what influences may play into how an individual reacts and perceives their diagnosis. Different factors such as age and income contribute to this. 

“What really sparked my interest with cancer is the disparity with breast cancer in white and black women,” she said. “White women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, but black women are more likely to die from it. I thought that was super interesting and I want to know why that actually happens and who do these people perceive breast cancer.”

Throughout this semester, Tyler Ann and the other students will be working on a project proposal. Next semester will be used to collect data and by the end of the year, each student will write a paper and give a presentation with the goal of possibly having their research published and further funded. 

Though the process so far has been challenging, Tyler Ann said the experience has been rewarding and something that will set her apart from others after she graduates. 

“I feel very grateful. When I was first coming in, I didn’t think I would be into science because it is such a male dominated field. But [professors] make it so accessible. They give us the tools to do it and encourage us not to be fearful,” Tyler Ann said. 

If this year’s initiative is successful, the goal will be to continue to run the program and show off the positive outcome to federal agencies in hopes of more funding for women studying in the health and medical fields. 

Contact Allie Kirkman with comments at aekirkman@bsu.edu or on Twitter at @alliekirkman15.