A real-life scenario that stays in the back of her mind keeps Dr. Marizen Ramirez motivated to prevent farming injuries and deaths. Parents of a toddler who had suddenly disappeared were forced to face the reality that their child died in a piece of machinery that was in operation on their own farm.
“Injuries and violence are the number one killers of children,” said Ramirez, Associate Professor in the University of Iowa College of Public Health Department of Occupational and Environmental Health. “I have a strong passion for child health. We want to prevent these events from occurring and prevent the suffering that occurs because of it.”
Ramirez intentionally avoids referring to the incidents as accidents. “That term connotes that these are chance events. That’s not the mentality that we need to maintain. We need to look at these events as preventable.”
With that in mind, Ramirez reaches for a brochure that resulted from a research study on motivating farm owners to create safe play areas. “Just giving this to parents has increased safety,” she said of the pamphlet, which offers suggestions on fencing, ground covers and more to keep farm children in a safe environment. “Having a safe farm play area might prevent these tragic incidents.”
Ramirez earned her bachelor’s degree in molecular cell biology from the University of California at Berkeley and her Master of Public Health and Ph.D. in epidemiology, both from the University of California at Los Angeles.
Her many research interests include areas such as sports injuries, disaster epidemiology, youth violence, post-traumatic stress and school-based injuries and violence. Ramirez and colleagues created a curriculum to accompany a play about cyber-bullying called “Out of Bounds,” which resulted from a collaboration at the UI, and plan to evaluate its effectiveness afterward.
New innovative research involves extracting text from phones of 80 Iowa middle school students — with their permission and that of their parents — to study messages, Facebook and Twitter posts to identify key words that would signal bullying.
“We have to understand what cyber-bullying is and what is the language of cyber-bullying,” Ramirez said. “In the cyber world, one message can be broadcast to the entire world, so it really does differ from face-to-face bullying. That’s why we need to do this kind of work.”
In another project, Ramirez is studying how parents can help their children recover emotionally and socially from traumatic injuries. While children can recover physically, they often have problems dealing with the emotional and social impacts of their injuries. The study will compare two parent-based approaches to help injured children recover.
Ramirez serves as Project Leader in the Farm Equipment Study at the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health. She also takes her role as an educator seriously, noting that public health not only gain skills to become public health professionals, but to become “compassionate, ethical human beings.”
“We have a vision of a better world for generations to come,” she said. “That’s why I went into public health.”
— Profile by Cindy Hadish