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Research Week 2017: An OB-GYN who crosses borders and pushes boundaries

Research Week: Maria Rodriguez, M.D., M.P.H.
Maria Isabel Rodriguez, M.D., M.P.H., consults with resident Britta Ameel about Ameel's research April 28, 2017 at the OHSU Center for Women’s Health. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

 Maria Isabel Rodriguez, M.D., M.P.H., isn’t your average OB-GYN. A family planning and international health and development expert, she advocates for social justice first and foremost. You can find her walking the halls of the Oregon Legislature lobbying about birth control access, helping Oregon mothers give birth, or traveling to low-resource parts of the world where women have poor and unsafe access to reproductive health care.  

Throughout her career, Rodriguez has traveled to more than 100 countries. Prior to joining the OHSU School of Medicine as an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Rodriguez spent five years with the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, as a medical officer in the Department of Reproductive Health and Research, where she witnessed the vastly different circumstances in which women give birth.

Patient care informs research

An OB-GYN who cares for patients at the OHSU Center or Women’s Health, Rodriguez finds satisfaction in supporting women, particularly teens, through important or challenging life events. As with many faculty members at OHSU, her clinical work drives her research.

Rodriguez spends about 75 percent of her time at OHSU on research around how she can provide better care in the clinic so that women can have better health outcomes, both domestically and internationally.

Whether it’s clinical, economic or health systems research, she says, “It helps me think more critically about the treatments I discuss with women and to have more informed conversations with patients about benefits and risks. Patient care also helps me think about the most relevant outcomes to study.”

Health advocate for Oregon women

Research Week: Maria Rodriguez, M.D., M.P.H.
Maria Isabel Rodriguez, M.D., M.P.H., cares for patients at the OHSU Center for Women’s Health and finds satisfaction in supporting women, particularly teens, through important or challenging life events. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

Rodriguez is acutely aware of how health policy directly impacts women’s health -- that’s why she works closely with Oregon policymakers.

Recently appointed by Gov. Kate Brown to the Medicaid Advisory Committee, which advises the Oregon Health Policy, the Office for Health Policy and Analytics and the Oregon Health Authority on the operation of Oregon’s Medicaid program, including the Oregon Health Plan, Rodriguez focuses her research on the impacts of reproductive health outcomes policy and disparities among the Medicaid population.

When the state passed an over-the-counter birth control bill, Rodriguez assisted the Board of Pharmacy in helping pharmacists implement the new law. She also works with the state as medical director for the Title X Family Planning Program, a federal program designed to assist individuals in determining the number and spacing of their children through the provision of affordable, voluntary family planning services.   

Crossing borders

Internationally, Rodriguez’s work has focused on human rights and contraception, postpartum and post-abortion contraception, adolescent sexual and reproductive health, and promoting safe access to abortion care.

“My international travel has really underscored for me the difference where we are born makes in the opportunities we have in life,” says Rodriguez. “I visited one hospital in Ghana where they perform about 20,000 births per year [OHSU performs about 3,500 births per year]. They have no basic amenities that U.S. women often enjoy when giving birth: no private rooms, air conditioning, 24-hour meal service, let alone epidurals or blood banks.”

Rodriguez says these women are so grateful to have someone to assist them in safely delivering their baby and also notes that the majority of births in Africa are not at a facility.

When asked why she loves research, her answer is simple.

“It’s the blend of pragmatism and creativity,” says Rodriguez. “I like thinking about new approaches to solve problems. I also see research as an important way to work for social justice, by identifying and addressing the underlying causes of health inequity.”

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