Committed to lifting women up: Faculty honored for mentoring others

About half way through a year-long research project in Ghana, April Bell was ready to throw in the towel. Little was going right. Her apartment had flooded, she’d already had one serious medical scare, and then she was in a road accident when the bus she was riding in tipped over. She wasn’t seriously injured, but she was rattled and thousands of miles from home. Bell phoned her mentor, Cheryl Moyer.

Cheryl Moyer, PhD, MPH, is pictured with a few of her mentees (from left) U-M Family Medicine fellow Nauzley Abedini, Indiana University PhD candidate and former Fogarty scholar April Bell, and Ghanaian pediatrician Ashura Bakari.

“I was obviously freaked out and I was having second thoughts about being there,” Bell said. “But Cheryl is transformative – there’s no other word for it. By the time we got off the phone, it was like, ‘I can do this.’ She’s a believer, and she’ll buck you up even when you don’t have the strength to do it yourself.”

Bell finished the fellowship project. “I’m close now to finishing my PhD program and without Cheryl I don’t think that would have been possible,” she said.

An assistant professor of Ob-Gyn and Learning Health Sciences, Moyer has developed a name for herself as a researcher and advocate for women’s health in sub-Saharan Africa. Closer to home, she’s earned a reputation as a powerful mentor, recently garnering the 2018 Sarah Goddard Power Award. Given by the U-M Academic Women’s Caucus, the annual honor recognizes individuals for significant contributions to the betterment of women at the University. Moyer was nominated for the award by Senior Associate Dean for Education and Global Affairs Joseph Kolars. He noted that, since coming to U-M in 2000, Moyer has mentored more than 70 students, trainees, and junior faculty members – the vast majority of them women.

“Dr. Moyer has been tireless advocate and mentor for young women looking to advance their careers,” said Kolars, MD. “I have watched her coach faculty and staff through challenging personal, professional, and international dilemmas, always validating their feelings while allowing individuals to identify both the root of the issue and a constructive way forward.”

Moyer holds an MPH from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a PhD from the U-M School of Public Health. Much of her own research has focused on Ghana, where she’s been spearheading a multi-year, USAID-funded study on maternal and neonatal mortality trends. In 2016, she was part of a group of leading international scholars invited to contribute to a maternal health series in The Lancet.

In addition to her scholarly work on women’s issues, Moyer has shared her expertise and passion for global health with scores of colleagues and student mentees, too. Among them is Heidi Burns, a Psychiatry fellow who this August will travel to Ghana for an extended Fogarty International Center grant to study suicide trends and possible interventions.

Dr. Cheryl conducts women’s health research in sub-Saharan Africa and has cultivated a reputation internationally for her work in global health. Closer to home, she is known for mentoring and sharing her passion with others.

“Cheryl was really instrumental in getting this grant for me. She really went above and beyond to advocate for me,” Burns said. “It’s not an area of research that she’s involved in, but she saw the value and championed it. The world of global health is so broad that it can be really hard to get yourself connected, but Cheryl is clearly committed to lifting women up with her, which is a selfless and wonderful thing to do.”’

In 2017, Moyer was part of an organizing committee behind the inaugural Women Leaders in Global Health Conference, hosted last October at Stanford University. In connection with the meeting, she developed an extensive mixed-methods study of the attendees, creating a survey about their professional experiences to begin to assess the picture – and perceptions – of women working in academic global health.

“No one has ever done this in the global health setting, but she took the lead to design this study in order to get a sense of both the barriers for these women in their careers, and the potential solutions,” said Nauzley Abedini, MD, a Michigan Medicine fellow in Hospital Medicine who is assisting in the project. “These are powerhouse women on this conference task force. Cheryl is so humble and would always say that she’s not sure what she’s doing there, but the truth is that she is a force of nature.”

Abedini was a young U-M medical student when she first met Moyer, and the two remained connected throughout her training, even when Abedini left Ann Arbor for a residency in Seattle.

“We continued to stay in touch despite the fact that I was working at a distance and on things unrelated to global health,” Abedini said. “I don’t know how she has time to do everything that she does, but that meant so much to me. Cheryl is the person I go to when I need a strong female advisor, and she is just someone that I aspire to be like in my life.”

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