Harvard Kennedy School professor Marcella M. Alsan ’99 was selected as the 2021 MacArthur Fellow on Tuesday for her work on health disparities at the intersection of medicine and economics.
Alsan, a medical economist who joined Harvard faculty in 2019, is the Kennedy School’s first female MacArthur Fellow and the only Harvard faculty member among this year’s 25 recipients. The prestigious scholarship – also known as the MacArthur “Genius Grant” – comes with a $ 625,000 scholarship paid out over five years for scholarship recipients to use at their discretion.
Alsan received the award in recognition of his work on the causes and solutions to racial disparities in health outcomes.
“My work focuses on two main questions – what are the origins of health inequalities and then what can be done to reduce them,” Alsan said in a press release from HKS. “As an applied microeconomist, I strive to use rigorous methods to assess potential policy solutions and discover mechanisms. “
The scholarships are awarded to individuals who demonstrate “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative endeavors and a marked capacity for autonomy,” according to the MacArthur Foundation website.
“Alsan provides strong evidence on the importance of diversity in the medical profession and on efforts to improve health outcomes for historically marginalized and abused populations,” says the Foundation’s website.
Alsan’s 2018 article – one of his most notable work – examines the long-term effects of Tuskegee’s syphilis experiments in rural Alabama between 1932 and 1972. Hundreds of black men have come together. refused treatment for the disease in order to monitor the complete progression of the disease. The study was conducted without obtaining the informed consent of the participants.
Along with his co-authors, Alsan found a significant decrease in medical care use among older black men in the region, including those not directly affected by the study. They also found increased death rates and mistrust of medical professionals.
The article estimated that life expectancy at age 45 for black men declined to 1.5 years, which the article said was “a remarkably large effect.”
The results prompted Alsan and his colleagues to conduct a field study of black men in Oakland, which found that patients were significantly more receptive to preventive care after meeting with a black doctor.
David M. Cutler ’87, professor of economics at Harvard and Alsan’s thesis supervisor, said Alsan had “a great motivation” that enabled him to be successful in economics. Before obtaining his doctorate. in economics from Harvard, Alsan earned a medical degree and a master’s degree in public health.
“She found the class difficult, but persevered to get to the research stage and really did some phenomenally important research,” Cutler said.
In the press release, Alsan said she was excited about the opportunity to donate the grant money for her future projects.
“I am shocked and incredibly grateful that my non-traditional journey is being honored in such a tremendous way and I am excited about the opportunities offered by the grant,” said Alsan.
While the scholarship honors Alsan’s research prowess, Cutler also noted his “incredibly caring” nature.
“She’s just about the nicest person you’ll ever meet, plus one of the smartest, most capable people you’ll ever meet,” Cutler said.
“She’s always there to lend an ear to talk to people, to give advice,” Cutler added. “If something happens in life that makes life difficult for a student, she’ll say, ‘Let me see if I can help you, tell me what’s going on. “”
– Editor-in-Chief Eric Yan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.