From ASU to Global Health Research and Back: Meet Faculty Member Rachel Gur-Arie

By Rachel Gur-Arie, PhD

What happens when the very thing you study for your research suddenly has relevance to a global pandemic? That was essentially the position I found myself in three years ago while working on my dissertation in Israel.

My name is Rachel Gur-Arie, I am a new Assistant Professor in the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University. I am trained in health systems management and bioethics. My journey to this point has been unconventional and unpredictable, but as has also come full circle in many ways.

I grew up in Phoenix and attended Arizona State University through the BS/MS accelerated program in Biology and Society, with a focus on Bioscience Ethics, Policy, and Law. As an undergraduate, I knew that I was interested in matters related to how science plays out “in the real world,” but frankly had no idea what sort of professional future this interest could lead to. I was good at identifying paths that I did not want to pursue (like medical school), but not so good at identifying what I wanted to do. Thanks to the mentorship of faculty in the Center for Biology and Society—especially, Dr. Jane Maienschein—I quickly discovered the fields of public health and global health. I felt that by pursuing work in these fields, I would be able to “change the system” instead of “working within the system” of health.

Rachel with some Ibex in the Negev desert, where my PhD university was based
Me with some Ibex in the Negev desert, where my PhD university was based. Credit: Rachel Gur-Arie.

The opportunities provided to me at ASU were just the beginning of an adventure I still cannot believe I am on. Before finishing my time as a student at ASU, I managed to work at the Phoenix-based biotech company TGen, intern at the Consortium for Science Policy and Outcomes, and attend a variety of professional conferences like AAAS. My undergraduate and Master’s theses focused on the ethics of vaccine policy and uptake among healthcare workers in the US. This led me to pursue a Fulbright Scholarship in Public Health in Israel focused on vaccination ethics. My Fulbright year in Israel was life changing, both professionally and personally. I was not ready to leave after one year.

So, I stayed. I completed my PhD in Health Systems Management at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva Israel, where I led the qualitative arm of a CDC-funded influenza vaccine effectiveness study among healthcare workers. I analyzed why healthcare workers in Israel got vaccinated or not, and whether the Israeli healthcare system was appropriately and ethically policing vaccination status among healthcare workers. I was writing my dissertation when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. Suddenly, there was heightened global interest in vaccine hesitancy, and heightened global interest in the Israeli healthcare system, due to Pfizer’s early vaccine rollout in Israel. I was living through what I had spent so much time researching. I, like so many others, am still processing this experience.

Rachel at Keble College, Oxford, during my postdoc.
Me at Keble College, Oxford, during my postdoc. Photo credit: Rachel Gur-Arie

Just before COVID-19 shut down the world, I accepted a Hecht-Levi Postdoctoral Fellowship with a focus on ethics and infectious disease at the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University. In this position, I was jointly appointed at the Ethox Centre at the University of Oxford and supported by the Oxford-Johns Hopkins Global Infectious Disease Ethics Collaborative (GLIDE). It was the ideal fusion of my interests: bioethics and public health research done across global borders. In my postdoc, I finessed what exactly I wanted my research portfolio and focus to on, which is currently the policy and real-world applications of the ethics of vaccination, broadly speaking. Though COVID-19 limited travel significantly, I was lucky enough to spend time in both Baltimore and Oxford, working with colleagues across the world on issues related to global health ethics and policy.

I am very excited to be back at ASU. I am currently a member of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and the Center for Advancing Interprofessional Practice, Education and Research within Edson, a Faculty Research Affiliate of the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center, and an affiliated faculty member with the Center for Biology and Society. This semester I am teaching “Ethics for the Healthcare Professional” and plan to develop more ethics classes focused on global public health. I look forward to pursuing innovative research and scholarship at the intersection of ethics, health, and decision-making, while also mentoring students of all levels, disciplinary interests, and backgrounds.

I helped coordinate an international global health summer seminar for 6 years in Israel.
I helped coordinate an international global health summer seminar for 6 years in Israel. Photo credit: Rachel Gur-Arie