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MARCH 8

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A Stronger Understanding of Broader Health

Dr. Gregory Phillips II received his biology degree from Lebanon Valley College

Lebanon Valley College biology alumnus Dr. Gregory Phillips II ’05 is researching COVID-19 testing and prevention behaviors among racial/ethnic minority and sexual and gender minority (SGM) young people with funding from a new National Institutes of Health (NIH) initiative.

An assistant professor at Northwestern, Phillips is a member of the university’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing and director of its Evaluation, Data Integration and Technical Assistance (EDIT) Program. The institute attempts to foster a learning community to improve the health and wellbeing of sexual and gender minority (SGM) populations in Chicago and beyond.

“As a gay man and proud alumnus of Freedom Rings at LVC, and being keenly aware that sexual and gender minority individuals are disproportionately impacted by HIV, building a stronger understanding of the broader health of LGBT individuals seemed critical for a holistic outlook on the epidemic,” he said.

Phillips teamed with other researchers to conduct a study this past summer focused on the impact of COVID-19 on LGBT individuals – this study provided pilot data for the current NIH funding. While work on some publications based on that data continues, Phillips said there is clear evidence that LGBT individuals are more likely to be symptomatic for COVID-19 but less likely to have access to testing and other preventive services. 

“Due to these preliminary results and the omnipresent concern about students returning to school, we thought it was vital that someone collected information on LGBT youth and young adults to see how the pandemic has impacted them and their families. We’re hopeful that we can use the information we learn from this study to develop messaging to improve engagement in preventive behaviors and vaccine uptake.”

At Northwestern, Phillips spends much of his time growing and strengthening his position in the academic community. In addition to his latest project, Phillips secured previous funding from the NIH, Chicago Department of Public Health, and other organizations.

He collaborates with the Chicago Department of Public Health to oversee the evaluation and quality management of the city’s HIV funding portfolio and worked with more than 50 other city agencies. Along with research, Phillips guest lectures and works with student research assistants. He cites mentoring people interested in research or public health careers as one of his professional highlights.

Before his position at Northwestern, Phillips completed a master’s degree and Ph.D. in epidemiology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Dr. Manya Magnus, an infectious diseases epidemiologist who focused on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV, gave Phillips his first research-focused job. He notes that experience as the gateway that led to his later accomplishments.

Dr. Magnus is just one of the people who influenced Phillips’ career. Dr. Steve Williams, professor emeritus of biology, is another. He guided Phillips, who admits he felt extremely lost about his next steps entering his senior year at The Valley. 

“Dr. Williams suggested I look into a field that combined my interests in math and biology—particularly biostatistics or epidemiology,” said Phillips, who minored in mathematics. “I didn’t know much about either of these fields, but after some research, I realized that it would be the perfect fit for my interests. I’m not sure what direction my career would have gone if I didn’t have that conversation with Dr. Williams.

“The fact that LVC has excellent math and biology programs also served me well for my interviews for master’s programs in epidemiology and biostatistics. I don’t think I would have been accepted at multiple programs without that training.”