Q&A with Maria Pyra, Senior Epidemiologist
“I love the brainstorming part of my job – especially talking with Howard Brown clinical staff and getting excited about a new question and how we can answer it.”Maria Pyra, MEd, MPH, PhD, Senior Epidemiologist (she/her/hers)
The Center for Education, Research, and Advocacy (ERA) at Howard Brown Health has a long history of participating in community-based education, research, and advocacy aimed at addressing gaps in healthcare practice. Howard Brown is committed to highlighting all the amazing research and those who have dedicated themselves to improving and providing equitable healthcare.
We recently sat down with Senior Epidemiologist/Postdoctoral Scholar Maria Pyra, MEd, MPH, PhD (she/her/hers) to discuss work and life in the time of COVID-19. Maria is a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago’s Chicago Center for HIV Elimination and Senior Epidemiologist at Howard Brown Health.
What does your day to day at work look like since we have been in quarantine?
Right now, it’s sitting in my home office/my kid’s play room; I have two monitors set up, which I really appreciate. Days vary a lot, sometimes it’s lots of calls, somedays it’s writing or coding. I try to read a lot of scientific articles to keep up with PrEP and other STI prevention. But mostly I work with the awesome Data Evaluation and Epidemiology team to pull data from the EMR and analyze it and turn it into a “story.” Occasional breaks to walk the dog.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I love the brainstorming part of my job – especially talking with Howard Brown clinical staff and getting excited about a new question and how we can answer it. At Howard Brown, we’ve looked at how the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) line up with our patient data and found that transgender and Black patients get left out; health systems need better ways to identify patients who need PrEP, or just talk to everyone!
Is there a specific study or work you have published you would like Community Members to know about?
One of the first papers I did with Howard Brown – Correlations of HIV Preexposure Prophylaxis Indications and Uptake, Chicago, Illinois, 2015–2018. It’s a long title! Laura Rusie, ScM, Director of Data, Evaluation, and Epidemiology at Howard Brown Health did great work lining up the CDC PrEP criteria with our patient data. In this study, we examined the number of patients indicated for PrEP according to CDC guidelines relative to the number of HIV diagnoses across various patient populations. We found that for Black patients there were fewer indications for PrEP relative to the number of HIV diagnoses compared to White patients. Likewise, among trans women, there were fewer PrEP indications relative to HIV diagnoses compared to men who have sex with men. This shows that the folks that probably need PrEP the most are often not identified by the CDC criteria. So hopefully this can spur policymakers, but also individual providers, to think a little more broadly and little more creatively about who should be considered for PrEP.
Are there any words or advice/wisdom you would like to give for anyone engaging in this work? Alternatively, to anyone who is looking to learn more about this work?
I would love to talk to anyone interested in public health or epidemiology. There are so many different kinds of work related to public health and epidemiology. And we really need more LGBTQ+ and minority voices in this work!
Maria Pyra, Howard Brown’s Senior Epidemiologist, received her MPH in epidemiology from the University of Illinois at Chicago and worked at the Women’s Interagency HIV Study before earning her PhD at the University of Washington. Her work focuses on sexual and reproductive health. Currently, her research is on improving PrEP uptake and use. Before getting into Public Health, Maria was a high school science teacher and worked for Habitat for Humanity. She lives with her wife, 4-year old daughter, and rescue pup in Oak Park.
 Pyra M, Rusie LK, Baker KK, Baker A, Ridgway J, Schneider J. Correlations of HIV Preexposure Prophylaxis Indications and Uptake, Chicago, Illinois, 2015–2018. Am J Public Health. Published online January 16, 2020:e1-e8. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2019.305469