Marie-Anne Rosemberg

Marie-Anne Rosemberg


What is your area of research or expertise that brings you to the Landscapes collaboration?

We spend the majority of our awake time at work. But we researchers and clinicians often  do not  really consider work. When people go to their primary care physicians, perhaps the chief complaint might be difficulty breathing, for example. The healthcare professional  doesn’t think about asking the patient, Where do you work? They may work at a place where they’re exposed to compounds that cause breathing issues or exacerbate their existing health issues such as  asthma. I want to look at the health and well being of at-risk workers, marginalized workers. They are primarily low wage women, individuals of color, and immigrants. These people are the ones who are living in different communities that are putting them at this disadvantage, who are most likely to experience poor health conditions because of all those other systemic factors that come into play, including workplace factors.

What do you find challenging or exciting about interdisciplinary collaboration?

It’s challenging if people are not willing to be flexible or are not open to others’ background and experiences. I personally find it exciting because I love to hear different ways of doing things. I’ve been attending a lot of Vigilance and Sleep meetings to get the opportunity to see how things are being done.  I love to hear different people’s experiences, and I mean differences not only in terms of who the collaborators are, but also what they’ve seen, their walks of life, as well as their experience in terms of research. Differences can even influence the way one would frame a research question, collect and interpret data. Maggie, for example, wouldn’t think about a problem the same way I would, but together we come up with something powerful. I think that’s what makes collaboration fascinating.

What is one common misconception about your area of research that you’d like to dispel?

Researchers don’t consider work as a system, as part of the determinants of health.  Actually the National Institute for Minority Health Disparities held a webinar, and they published a paper about how people who are doing health disparities research need to start considering the workplace as a social determinant. When I read that paper, and when I attended that webinar, I said, this is what I’ve been wanting to do for the longest time!  Back in the day, people wouldn’t be interested in funding what I’m doing. Now we’re starting to see we can’t separate workplace exposure. Work does not happen in silos from one’s identity. COVID  has shown us that too, because with COVID people like you and I can work from home, so our exposures could be minimized.  By contrast people who are essential workers have to work in person. Who are those essential workers? Often It’s people who are low wage:  the restaurant workers, people who are working in grocery stores, and front line workers. There’s a growing acceptance that  we have to consider where people play, live, work, and all of that together. There’s an intersectionality with all these facets that we have to consider.

For example, researchers who are looking at lead exposure could say, Oh, let’s look at the painting in the home and things like that. But the person could be working at a place where they’re exposed to lead every day, and we’re not thinking about that! It’s a misconception that we can separate people’s health and well-being in everyday life from work, and that we can address health disparities without considering work. I think that’s impossible.

How did you become interested in structural racism and health?

It found me as I started looking at the workplace. I started thinking, who looks like they’re at most risk for poor health?  I realized that those individuals are the ones who are reporting experiences of racism and discrimination, such as Black women and immigrant individuals. I’m thinking about two workers in particular who were not from the US. They could only read their names, and then they couldn’t read and write. So I had to read the survey to them. I wanted to know about their work stress, and they started to talk about all these other experiences that they’re going through all related to racism, and how they’re being mistreated because of their inability to read, and their inability to speak the language properly. I’ve spoken to workers who’ve been sexually abused on the job and because of who they are and where they’re from little to nothing was done to protect them. I also have seen tension between people who are born in the US versus foreign born. I couldn’t do the research that I’m doing without really considering structural racism. I can’t separate them.

What’s the academic path that brought you to where you are now?

I’m a nurse by training and I worked as a step down ICU nurse for a short time, and then I got accepted into the PhD program because I was always interested in research. But while I was in the PhD program, I realized that I am passionate about communities and populations health. I enrolled in a masters program, and that’s why I graduated a year later from my PhD, because I wanted to get my masters as well. So at one point I was taking my PhD courses in the morning and  I was going in the afternoon from my master’s classes. I was told that I could not double dip, so whatever topic I was doing for my PhD I could not work on it for my master’s thesis, so it was hard work. 

For my masters project, I was still looking at work-related exposure. I looked at what pathogens nurses were carrying on their scrubs when they left work to bring home. Needless to say, every time I am in the supermarket or a restaurant, and I see somebody wearing scrubs, I cringe because I know from that project that the scrubs have so much stuff on them.  After my PhD, I went on to get my post doc here at UM as a NIH T-32 fellow, and then I stayed as faculty. 

If you had the opportunity to get one question answered by an omniscient being, what would you ask?

I would want to know if we will ever really end world suffering? And if yes, is there a shortcut to achieve that? It’s disheartening if we stop to really sit down and think. We’re doing this health disparities research and looking at structural racism, and sometimes I feel like the work that we’re doing is so far from really achieving some type of impact on a broad scale, so I’m looking for a shortcut or fast track to achieve health equity and end world suffering. What’s the shortcut to help? 

Is there anything else you want to share? 

I appreciate the opportunity to be highlighted, and I’m excited to join the team.  Being able to be part of a team brings me interesting new perspectives.  And this project is awesome. I’m excited.