October 1, 2020 | Erin Bluvas, email@example.com
After completing a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, Sophia Negaro returned to her hometown of New Haven, Connecticut. She spent the next several years in various research and clinical coordinator roles in Yale University’s Department of Psychology, gaining experience in the diagnosis and treatment of serious mental health illnesses, such as schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, in adolescents and young adults.
Her last position at the university, as lab manager and research coordinator for the Clinical Neuroscience Lab, introduced Negaro to a longitudinal study on prodromes (i.e., early symptoms indicating the onset of an illness or disease) among high-risk individuals. The project measured changes in biomarkers in adolescents and young adults who were at high risk for experiencing a psychotic episode, with the long-term goal of improving practitioners’ ability to intervene as early as possible. Negaro was just months away from enrolling in a doctoral program to pursue her own line of research in this area when she had an epiphany.
“I realized my passion lay in the actual interventions and understanding how we can deliver them more efficiently and effectively,” Negaro says. “My research interests are all broadly based around the development of serious mental illness and factors which influence this trajectory, early intervention for prodromal symptoms of behavior problems, and the mental health care system barriers we can address to improve treatment delivery.”
To end up with this level of clarity, Negaro declined her spot in the psychology program she had once thought was the obvious next step and moved to South Carolina. While she figured out how to best combine her interests in early symptom detection and intervention research, Negaro enrolled in UofSC’s Master of Social Work program.
The program’s clinical component led Negaro to complete practicum opportunities, including a field placement with the Division of Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina. She received additional training through the College’s Rural Interprofessional Behavioral Health Scholar and MUSC’s Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities programs. Negaro also served as a research assistant for Christina Andrews, who encouraged her mentee to find ways to incorporate her interests into her own research.
“I was so encouraged by her passion for improvement of our healthcare system and genuine motivation for change,” Negaro says. “While working with Dr. Andrews, I learned how publicly available Medicaid data could be an accurate and interesting measure for the utilization of our current healthcare system by populations who need them most, and became interested in the prospect of applying this to my own interests in mental health care and early intervention for adolescents.”
Andrews also introduced her to implementation research. Negaro saw this area of research as a way to examine how scientists can best disseminate efficient healthcare innovations. In particular, she realized she could use data to improve access to mental health care services for young adults. This fall, both Negaro and Andrews joined the Arnold School’s Department of Health Services Policy and Management – Negaro as a Ph.D. student and Presidential Fellow and Andrews as an associate professor.
“Once I started to become more acquainted with my new department, I realized how incredibly fortunate I was to have the opportunity to pursue my degree with the Arnold School of Public Health,” says Negaro, who has some lessons learned to share. “Have a strong and complex passion which you hope to use for the betterment of others. There are many pieces to a good research question, and exploring how or whether they all relate is exciting.”