December 7, 2015

Dunn Scholar uses mHealth to reach new populations
Hannah Lerner doesn’t want to treat health problems. She wants to prevent them.

As an undergraduate, Hannah studied biology with the aim of going to medical school, but after learning more about public health, she changed her mind.

“I realized public health was a field in which I could have an impact before illness happens,” says Lerner. “As a physician, I could help people feel better, but I’m even more motivated to eliminate behaviors that cause illness in the first place.”

Lerner, a first-year doctoral student in the UNC Gillings School’s Department of Health Behavior, is supported financially by an award from the Dorothy Fay Dunn Scholarship Fund.

“The award is the reason I’m here,” Lerner says. “I knew I wanted to study at the Gillings School, but I would not have been able to attend without this aid.”

Through the generosity of Ms. Dunn, whose estate plans established the scholarship fund, Lerner works as a research assistant in the laboratory of Deborah Tate, PhD, associate professor of health behavior and nutrition.

“Dr. Tate introduced me to the incredible potential of mHealth,” says Lerner. “After studying how mobile applications can support self-directed weight-loss initiatives, I understood that this kind of technology- based outreach is the future of public health interventions.”

Lerner also assists in the lab of Christine Rini, PhD, research associate professor of health behavior, studying ways cancer patients can use mHealth apps to manage pain and stress.

“Not everyone who needs regular care can afford frequent visits to a doctor,” Lerner says. “mHealth tools can support patients who are trying to lose weight, manage pain or accomplish other health goals. The possibilities are endless.”

– Jennie Saia

Read more about Drs. Christine Rini and Deborah Tate.

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