May 27, 2016
Allen Wilcox, PhD, Gillings School alumnus and a pioneer in reproductive epidemiology, has been selected as a finalist for a 2016 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, a prestigious honor for federal government professionals.
The service medals, also known as “Sammies,” are the “Oscars” of government service. Named for the late founder of the Partnership for Public Service, the awards reflect Heyman’s vision of a dynamic and innovative federal workforce that meets the needs of the American people.
Of the millions of federal employees, 32 were chosen to compete in eight categories – career achievement, call to service, citizen services, homeland security and law enforcement, management excellence, national security and international affairs, science and environment, and federal employee of the year. Wilcox is a “career achievement” finalist.
A senior investigator at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Wilcox has spent nearly 40 years conducting groundbreaking human reproduction research that has advanced understanding of fertility and pregnancy.
When he joined NIEHS in 1979, little attention had been paid to the epidemiology of human reproduction. His first study, which was featured on the cover of Newsweek magazine, focused upon early pregnancy and miscarriage and found that 25 percent of pregnancies are lost before women are aware they are pregnant. The study also showed that most women who have miscarriages are fertile and subsequently are able to have a healthy pregnancy.
The findings of that study led to other discoveries about fertility, including that women can conceive during the five days prior to ovulation and on the day of ovulation; that over-the-counter tests were not able to detect pregnancy on the first day a woman’s menstrual cycle was late; and that low birth weight, formerly thought to be the major cause of infant death, was a secondary cause to preterm delivery and pathology of the fetus.
“If my work makes a contribution,” Wilcox was quoted as saying on the Service to America website, “it probably has not been a single study so much as an approach to how all these separate pieces – fertility, conception, fetal development, infant survival – fit into an integrated picture. You can’t understand one without considering them all.”
Wilcox earned a Master of Public Health degree in maternal and child health at the UNC Gillings School in 1976 and a doctorate in epidemiology at the School in 1979. Among many other leadership roles and awards, he has served as president of the Society for Epidemiologic Research and on the board of the directors of the American College of Epidemiology. In 2000, the Gillings School’s Department of Epidemiology selected him for the H.A. Tyroler Distinguished Alumni Award.
He and other finalists were honored at a reception on May 3 in Washington, D.C. Winners will be announced at a black-tie gala on Sept. 20.