Faculty Profile: Jane Clougherty, MSc, ScD
Jane Clougherty, MSc, ScD
Environmental and Occupational Health
Dornsife School of Public Health
“My mission in life is to understand the combined effects of psychosocial stressors – things like exposure to violence – with physical environmental exposures, such as air pollution, on people’s health. So, does stress make you more susceptible to everything else that you contact in the environment? This question is huge: There’s a logic to it, but getting the details right is really, really complicated ...”
I grew up in a huge family of Irish Catholic firefighters in South Boston ... It was a family and culture where it was very normal for everybody to have the police and fire radios on 24/7 in their homes – and at 3 a.m. the phone would ring and everyone goes out ... That is an experience and a childhood that instills a strong sense of social service that is very selfless – because these are people who put their own lives at risk to help others. That’s very inspiring and has probably shaped a lot of who I am.
Why Public Health
As my career began ... I was working as a rape counselor and that was really my true passion – women’s health and violence intervention – but I had an academic interest in environmental science and economics. So, I really struggled with how do I put these things together ... I slowly started to think about how the social environment and people’s psychosocial experience affected their health and well-being as much as their physical environment did. I can quite literally remember the evening I was sitting back in my little apartment in Chicago and the light bulb kind of went off over a couple of beers – that, oh my God – the social environment and the physical environment are the same thing – and maybe these do interact, and maybe this isn’t a crazy idea to combine these. So, I wrote in my application to Harvard School of Public Health this is my hypothesis, this is what I want to study, these are the methods I want to put together – will you support me in that? And that was it ...
Getting my PhD was a proud moment for my family and me. My doctoral defense was delivered in an overcrowded room – with all these people sitting across the back who had never been in such a setting before, but there was no keeping them away!
attacks ... for example, do adults who live in communities with higher rates of violence have a stronger response to air pollution on, say, bad ozone days in the summertime? Are they the ones more likely to wind up in the emergency room with a heart attack?
The most recent funding I’ve received is to look at patterns of community stressors across all of New York City – things like exposure to violence – and how that may make people more susceptible to the cardiovascular effects of air pollution, changing day-to-day, location-by-location, across the city, over an 11-year period ... So we’re shifting our focus from thinking about children having asthma to thinking about adults having heart attacks ... for example, do adults who live in communities with higher rates of violence have a stronger response to air pollution on, say, bad ozone days in the summertime? Are they the ones more likely to wind up in the emergency room with a heart attack?