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Who's in CHARGE?: Jennifer Rutledge Pettie, JD, MPH

April 12, 2024

“Who’s in CHARGE?” spotlights a member of the AAMC Collaborative for Health equity: Act, Research, Generate Evidence (CHARGE), a forum for investigators, clinicians, and community partners who design and implement research and policies that eliminate health and health care inequities. This Black Maternal Health Week (April 11-17), we’re featuring Jennifer Rutledge Pettie, JD, MPH, maternal health equity documentarian, author, legal epidemiologist, and AAMC CHARGE virtual community ambassador. Connect with Jennifer in the AAMC virtual community, on LinkedIn and on X.

Jennifer Rutledge Pettie JD, MPH

Why is now the right time for all of us to work together on health equity?

The timing for our collective efforts toward health equity couldn't be more pertinent. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death.” This timeless quote, articulated during a 1966 press conference, resonates profoundly in 2024. Despite progress, stark health disparities persist in the United States, underscoring the urgent need to confront systemic inequalities that disproportionately impact outcomes. As a legal epidemiologist, I am uniquely positioned to leverage law and policy as catalysts for advancing health equity.

What health equity project are you most proud of or excited about?

One health equity project I am particularly proud of and excited about is A Queen’s Birth Story, a children's book aimed at raising maternal health awareness and empowering parents to share their birth stories with their children. Drawing heavily from my experience as a neonatal intensive care unit parent who also required life-saving treatment shortly after childbirth, this book holds deep personal significance. Through storytelling, I believe we have a powerful means to advance health equity and foster understanding within our communities.

Imagine you’re an investigator on your dream research project. What’s the question you’re trying to answer? 

In my dream research project, I aim to address a crucial gap in current research on maternal health. Despite a growing body of literature focusing on individual determinants, there is often a lack of consideration for the broader social context. This oversight is particularly concerning given the alarming disparity in maternal mortality rates, with Black individuals experiencing three to four times higher rates than those of their white counterparts. As a survivor of a near miss maternal experience, I find this statistic resonates deeply. Therefore, my dream research question seeks to investigate the impact of systemic biases on maternal health outcomes.

Do you have any health equity heroes?

One individual whom I deeply admire as a health equity hero is my maternal great-grandmother, Lula Hannibal Scarborough. She was a remarkable Black midwife who received her training at the historic Penn School on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Reflecting on her legacy of compassion and dedication to maternal care, I am inspired to continue advocating for maternal health equity.

Do you have an immediate research collaboration need?

Currently, I am embarking on a documentary project focusing on the escalating maternal health crisis in the United States. I am excited to collaborate with individuals who share similar research interests and are dedicated to addressing this urgent issue.

Additionally, I am proud to be a member of the Maternal Health Equity Research Advisory Council, a Health Resources and Services Administration-funded initiative. Comprising esteemed leadership from institutions including the Ohio State University, Johns Hopkins University, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Pittsburgh, Temple University, Michigan State University, and the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, this collaborative effort underscores our collective commitment to advancing maternal health equity. I welcome discussions regarding potential research dissemination opportunities and am eager to explore avenues for collaboration.

What advice would you give your 10-year-old self?

If I could offer advice to my 10-year-old self, it would be to embrace innovation wholeheartedly. Embracing innovation opens doors to identifying solutions, creating opportunities, and making a profound social impact in ways previously unimaginable. As someone who had the privilege of serving as Mrs. Georgia American 2022-23, I found that advocating for maternal health equity allowed me to leverage innovation in advocacy efforts beyond the confines of traditional research avenues.

You can meet other health equity champions like Jennifer in the AAMC CHARGE virtual community. Interested in nominating yourself or a colleague for a future “Who’s in CHARGE?” member spotlight?

Submit your nomination here