Good communication essential to public health

Jennifer Mendel Sheldon uses journalism and research experience to improve health communications for critical issues such as cancer prevention.

Woman sitting on rock formation and raising hands in excitement
Jennifer Mendel Sheldon's passion is advancing cancer prevention and control. (UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health)

Every week, the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health releases “The Pivot,” an interview with a faculty member or student digging deeper into how they pivoted during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Gillings recently spoke with Jennifer Mendel Sheldon, who serves as a project director with the school and Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and manages a program of grant-funded research with Gillings Distinguished Professor in Public Health Noel Brewer’s Health Cognition and Behavior Lab.

Sheldon combined her undergraduate background in journalism with a master’s education in public health to further address the importance of communication for critical health issues such as cancer prevention.

What’s your role in public health?

In my role, I’m involved in all phases of research, including writing research grants, planning, designing and implementing the research studies (including activities like national online surveys, qualitative interviews and complex randomized controlled trials), disseminating findings through manuscripts and presentations, and managing projects’ progress to ensure they’re doing quality work on time and on budget! 

Pivoting in the pandemic

I feel extremely lucky, because I’ve been able to work 100% remotely during the pandemic, and our research plans have not been significantly impacted. We were able to modify a few research activities that originally were planned to be done in-person and instead conducted them over the phone or Zoom. We also have had the flexibility in our project timelines to delay some activities that need to be in-person (e.g., an upcoming randomized clinical trial where we place health warnings on vapers’ devices and study their behavior).

During the pandemic, Sheldon contributed to a study about COVID-19 and tobacco messaging (Grummon et al., 2020). The study found messages linking COVID-19 and smoking may hold promise for discouraging cigarette use.  

Read the rest of the interview and check out more of “The Pivot” series.