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Alexander Woodman, MPH, MSG, PhD and Fulbright research scholar, has traveled across the globe to study public health and aging. From Southeast Asia to France and the Middle East, his guiding values as an investigator have been equity, justice and care.

Woodman is currently a U.S. Fulbright Research Scholar at the Arabian Gulf University School of Medicine in Manama, Bahrain. He contributes to the complex obesity map of the Gulf Cooperation Council, an initiative launched in Saudi Arabia in collaboration with leading research experts at King Fahad Medical Complex, where Woodman previously worked as the Head of Research. For nearly ten years, he has collaborated with leading clinical researchers, doctors, medical educators and ethicists in the Gulf region and beyond. He credits his time at the USC Leonard Davis School for preparing him for this important work.

Developing a sense of service and compassion

When Woodman was an undergraduate at UCLA, he volunteered at Cedars Sinai Medical Center where he spent time with patients in the intensive care unit. At Cedars Sinai, he personally witnessed people experiencing physical and psychological pain. It became the core basis for his lifelong mission of service and social engagement.

“Volunteering, which I did with passion, helped me develop a deeper understanding of service and compassion for the elderly and vulnerable populations,” he says. “It cultivated within me the person I am today and led me to the fields of medical research, public health and gerontology.”

Finding purpose in research

Woodman was drawn to research that improves people’s quality of life. He focuses on the well-being of communities, from small neighborhoods to entire countries and regions of the world. Woodman’s research spans global reproductive health, clinical research, and medical education. Simultaneously, he continues to explore social and emotional aspects of aging, along with behaviors and attitudes that affect human lifespan in different populations and environments.

Before coming to the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, Woodman completed a Master of Public Health at California State University, Fullerton. While there, he worked on a National Institutes of Health-funded project in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The goal of the project was to understand the attitudes of sex workers toward HIV, AIDS and HIV treatment.

Over the past few years, Woodman and his colleagues have published papers on a range of topics, including:

  • Communicable and non-communicable diseases
  • Women’s reproductive health and associated factors, such as genetic variations and coagulation factors
  • Association of overweight and obesity with populations’ perceptions and knowledge about nutrition and health
  • Medical education

Studying public health and aging in Saudi Arabia

One of Woodman’s current lines of research is obesity and the leptin gene. Leptin is a protein that helps maintain body weight. Some people have a variant of the gene that increases their risk for obesity. He studies the relationship between the prevalent leptin genetic variant and measurements such as body mass index (BMI) among Saudis in the Eastern Province.

As an undergraduate, Woodman minored in Near Eastern cultures, which inspired him to broaden his horizons and led him to the Middle East. He pursued health research in this region as part of his PhD at the University of Salford, Manchester (U.K.) There, leading public health experts provided valuable mentorship.

Woodman investigated and continues to study the Gulf region’s food guidelines, known as the Arab Food Dome. He wants to understand people’s attitudes towards the recommendations and how diet is related to longevity in the region.

USC Leonard Davis School: An important step

Woodman’s introduction to the concepts of diet and longevity occurred at the USC Leonard Davis School. As a Master of Science in Gerontology (MSG) student, he spent a summer conducting independent research for credit in Corsica, an island off the south of France. He documented food choices and other lifestyle factors in healthy older people.

Woodman’s MSG also prepared him to succeed at the doctoral level. Embarking on a PhD in the U.K. was challenging since the British educational system requires independent research and critical appraisal of evidence.

“I would not have been successful if not for the practice of reflexivity, which I consider the hallmark of excellent research. In this, the role and preparation by the leading experts of USC cannot and should not be underestimated,” Woodman says. “USC gave me the confidence to act as an independent researcher as part of my PhD study.”

Learning from the best

Woodman chose the USC Leonard Davis School to learn from passionate people who are leaders in their field. For Woodman, the “best” included:

  • Mentor Aaron Hagedorn, PhD, who provided expert guidance
  • Emeritus Dean of the Andrus Gerontology Center Edward Schneider, who is a pioneer in the aging field and an expert in medicine and biology
  • Senior Associate Dean Maria Henke, whose leadership has led many to consider gerontology as a global, scientifically important undertaking

Woodman maintains connections with USC faculty. He recently published a study in the Journal of Community Health with Keck School of Medicine Associate Professor, Mellissa Withers. The study looked at factors of overweight and obesity among petrochemical company employees in Saudi Arabia.

Lifelong learning and achievement

Despite his achievements, Woodman frequently pursues additional educational and research opportunities. Recently, he completed a yearlong clinical research program at Harvard Medical School. He also attended a bioethics program at Yale University.

“My friends ask me, ‘When are you going to stop?’ but I cannot imagine my life without learning,” Woodman says. His hard work paid off with a Fulbright Research Fellowship supporting his work at Arabian Gulf University School of Medicine in Bahrain.

In addition to his research, as part of contribution to the local community, Woodman initiated and led a series of seminars and workshops aimed at training emerging Bahraini academicians in research methodology and scientific writing. He also began to explore how the concept “Nothing About Us Without Us” is perceived in Bahrain, one of the most inclusive countries in the world for people with disabilities, he adds.

As a researcher exploring diverse cultures, Woodman frequently asks himself, “Do I see and listen? Or do I just look and hear?” It seems clear that Woodman sees and listens to the people he studies — and cares deeply about their health and future.

To learn more about the Master of Science in Gerontology program at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, call us at (213) 740-5156.

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