Melissa Eggen receives prize for outstanding dissertation

Melissa Eggen receives prize for outstanding dissertation

Melissa Eggen, PhD, MPH

Melissa Eggen, PhD, MPH, is the winner of the John M. Houchens Prize, which honors a former registrar of the University of Louisville and is awarded by UofL's Graduate School to the doctoral student who presents the most meritorious dissertation for the current commencement. Dr. Eggen is graduating this May 2024 after earning a PhD in Public Health Sciences with a specialization in Health Management and Policy. Titled "Socioecological Factors Associated with the Timing of Prenatal Care Initiation in Kentucky and Beyond: An Exploratory Study," Eggen's dissertation, explores multi-level barriers and facilitators associated with the timing of pregnant women seeking prenatal care in the United States and in Kentucky, using the Socioecological Model as the guiding framework.

As part of her dissertation, Eggen used data from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System, collected and compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to examine factors associated with prenatal care timing among women in Kentucky. This research is a unique and significant contribution to state-wide efforts to improve maternal health across the Commonwealth, as Kentucky has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country. According to the latest numbers published by the CDC, 38.4 out of 100,000 live births in Kentucky led to maternal death during the 2018-2021 period. This rate is only slightly lower than the rate in a few states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee, but higher than all other states. Moreover, maternal mortality is significantly higher among racial minorities, especially among the non-Hispanic Black population, both nationally and in Kentucky.

Eggen’s research targets one of the major root causes of maternal mortality and morbidity in Kentucky and inequities in maternal mortality: the adequacy and timing of prenatal care. She methodically investigated each potential factor contributing to the adverse outcomes and identified access to health insurance, household income, maternal education, and pregnancy wantedness as the major contributing factors to using prenatal care in Kentucky. The findings under this aim of her dissertation are currently under review at a top maternal and child health journal.

Strikingly, maternal mortality has been increasing in recent years. One of the less understood factors in the increase is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through another aim of her thesis, Eggen is one of the first in the country and the first in Kentucky to study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the timing of prenatal care initiation. In this innovative study, she uses a creative method to distinguish the effect of the pandemic from underlying institutional and socioeconomic factors. 

"The quality of Melissa's dissertation research and her experience, deep knowledge, and expertise in the field of maternal and child health have allowed her to shoulder major related efforts in addition to her dissertation," explained her mentor, Seyed Karimi, PhD, an associate professor in the Dept. of Health Management & Systems Sciences. "As a prime example, she is currently the PI on a State University Partnership grant assessing systems and policies to address maternal health in Kentucky."

Eggen has an MPH in Maternal and Child Health from the University of Illinois in Chicago and a BA in Anthropology from the University of Kentucky. She has over 15 years of experience working in community-based and state-wide non-profit organizations and has a special interest in conducting research at the local level to inform policy and practice. In particular, her research is centered on better understanding reproductive and maternal healthcare outcomes and patient experience using quantitative and mixed methods approaches.

Join us in congratulating Dr. Eggen on receiving this well-deserved recognition.

Visit the Graduate School website to see the complete list of award winners for May 2024. 

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