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Building a future that brings health and well-being to all

By Josh Friesen
For Ignite Magazine
Photos by Jason Hill

How can we guarantee everyone equal access to the benefits of innovation?

Every day, Shandee Dixon, Ph.D., gets closer to answering that question.

Dixon, research thread director of the Wy’east Post-Baccalaureate Pathway in the Northwest Native American Center of Excellence, began her career as a bench scientist. A microbiologist and immunologist by training, Dixon was immersed in research and focused on new technologies and discoveries that would change medicine. As a first-generation college student raised by a single parent, however, she often wondered how her contributions would impact her own family.

“I always thought to myself, ‘Would my family even be able to afford this? Would they even be able to benefit from this discovery? Would this innovation ever reach my community?’” said Dixon, also an associate scientist in the Oregon Clinical and Translational Research Institute. “I realized I wanted to have more of an impact.”

So, Dixon shifted gears. Innovation is important — there’s no doubt about that. Scientific and technological breakthroughs are vital to pushing medicine forward. But innovation done through the lens of health equity to ensure the fruits of that science are available to everyone? That’s where Dixon knew she belonged.

“How do I make sure all of this work done by all these brilliant minds is actually going in a direction that serves everyone, where folks feel like they’re being brought along and are part of the movement that makes everything better?” she said. “That was something that was really important to me.”

My role in the future is clear — to empower the next generation of youth and students. They’re the changemakers.

Shandee Dixon

Dixon mentors students from OHSU and Portland State University and helps guide them toward success. Also a faculty lead and career mentor for undergraduate research training programs at Portland State, Dixon helps students navigate and validate their place in their academic careers. Her work is building a future where health care providers and researchers look like and understand the people they serve, a future where structural gaps at the root of health inequities are filled.

“My impact comes from providing these opportunities for others,” Dixon said. “My role in the future is clear — to empower the next generation of youth and students. They’re the changemakers.”

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