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Advancing Health as a Human Right in the Epidemiology Field

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November 28, 2022

Born and raised in the Philadelphia area, Edwin McCulley, MS, began his academic journey at Drexel not far from his home in 2014 after serving in the United States Navy in Norfolk, Virginia. He was a Hospital Corpsman for five years providing preventative care for patients.

Before pursuing his PhD, McCulley received his bachelor's degree in Health Sciences from Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions and then his MS in Epidemiology from the Dornsife School of Public Health (DSPH).

As a master’s student, McCulley began his work at the Drexel Urban Health Collaborative, first as a research assistant then as a research coordinator.

Now as an epidemiology doctoral student and doctoral research fellow at UHC, he works closely with his faculty advisor, Usama Bilal, MD, PhD, MPH, assistant professor in the UHC and the department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at DSPH, who has similar research goals.

McCulley’s work is largely focused on the pursuit of health as a human right, which includes addressing health disparities particularly surrounding COVID, leading research in urban health, complex systems thinking and spatial epidemiology. As the trend of urbanization continues to increase rapidly worldwide, so do opportunities to improve city living and address inequities.

“I chose a career in public health to conduct meaningful research to promote population health and gain a better understanding of what drives population health outcomes, especially in the context of COVID-19,” McCulley said. “Working at the UHC and studying at DSPH allows me to engage and collaborate with public health professionals from a variety of health-related disciplines to tackle some of the most pressing issues in public health research and practice.”

As the COVID pandemic emerged, McCulley and fellow researchers at the UHC acted fast to document and shine a light on disparities in cities. They partnered with local health departments from 30 large U.S. cities within the Big Cities Health Coalition to create a data dashboard to describe COVID-19 inequities over time and across cities.

“This work was instrumental in identifying policy levers aimed toward reducing/eliminating health inequities and improving COVID-19 related population health outcomes in U.S. cities,” McCulley said. “I am proud of the high impact work on COVID-19 inequities that I've been able to accomplish through partnerships with local health departments and collaborations with professionals at the UHC and DSPH.”

Beyond investigating COVID, McCulley is engaged in several projects that provide evidence on how various urban features, such as city size and the built environment can drive or impede population health in urban settings.

In June 2022, he led research published in the Journal of Public Health that mapped evidence regarding the associations between population growth, city size, and health outcomes, with a focus on studies with an explicit urban scaling framework. The team found that homicides and other crimes are more common in larger cities, suicides are more common in smaller cities, and that traffic-related injuries show a less clear pattern that may differ by context and type of injury.

Throughout his career, McCulley hopes to continue studying the impact of COVID and the direct/indirect consequences of the pandemic in urban settings. After graduating from his doctoral program, he envisions a career as an epidemiologist at a government agency or a position in academia.

Learn more about the PhD in Epidemiology degree program