In 2008, Pamela Pelizzari met the Merasi, a group of musicians who live in northwestern India. The Merasi, while highly regarded for their music, have been marginalized by Indian society’s entrenched caste system and struggle to survive in a rapidly modernizing nation. The musicians are denied birth certificates and public education and many live on less than a dollar a day. As a result, a musical tradition has become endangered. Now, there’s a school for Merasi children that Pelizzari helped to create to educate them in math and reading and to preserve their musical heritage. The Merasi School also imparts life lessons in maintaining good health, such as making informed food choices and avoiding deceptive doctors who prescribe expensive and unnecessary medications. “By changing their health behaviors, the Merasi have taken a powerful step toward charting their own social futures,” she says. “To know that I have helped with this process thrills and humbles me, and I am confident that with further training I can experience substantially more success in culturally competent intervention development.” Pelizzari has repeatedly been drawn to the social determinants of health. As an undergraduate, she traveled on a months-long, study-abroad tour focused on community health. On the trip, she visited a workers’ collective in China where factory employees from across the country gathered to find affordable housing and learn the skills needed to advance from dead-end jobs.
Many of the workers were physically healthy, she says, but their way of life contributed to debilitating psychological and social distress that often later manifested in ill health. Pelizzari wants to study how social behaviors can be changed to help shape the future health landscape, both in the U.S. and abroad, and to find novel ways to more efficiently translate academic research into clinical practice.
Senior Healthcare Consultant, Milliman