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Get to Know Nina Zeldes

Public Citizen News / July-August 2023

By Kara Thompson

This article appeared in the July/August 2023 edition of Public Citizen News. Download the full edition here.

Before moving to Washington, D.C., Nina Zeldes, a researcher in Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, lived in many places across the globe. Born and raised in Germany, Zeldes is fluent in both English and German. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Ireland and her master’s degree in Scotland before traveling to Israel on a post-graduate scholarship and earning her doctorate from Freie Universität in Berlin. She also lived for a time in Japan and has elementary proficiency in Japanese and Hebrew. She moved to Washington, D.C., to conduct field research for her dissertation as a visiting researcher at Georgetown University’s Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics and recently published a book, “Navigating the Cultures of Health Care and Health Insurance,” based on her field research. Zeldes started working at Public Citizen in September 2022, where she focuses her research on health policy, health advocacy and analysis of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) drug information. During her workdays, she divides her time between working on Health Research Group’s “Worst Pills, Best Pills News” and the online Health Letter, as well as on longer-term projects. She also testifies about drugs and medical devices at FDA Advisory Committees and similar meetings. When she is not investigating health policy, she enjoys reading, gardening ,and continuing her quest to recreate bread that tastes like the bread from her childhood neighborhood bakery.

What first drew you to public health and policy analysis?

I have always been fascinated by how something that seems so universal as health can mean different things or be treated so differently for different people. Because I wanted to understand the cultural and societal factors influencing health and health care, I studied medical anthropology. I think to some extent this interest developed further when I was living in various places with different health care and health insurance systems, and very different levels of access to doctors or treatments. I have become increasingly curious about various aspects of health policy and the regulatory processes around it.

What is something you’re hoping to achieve in the next year?

One of the most important aspects in my role is advocating for safe drugs and devices for patients, especially by making complicated health information accessible and understandable. I am also looking forward to working on some more long-term projects, such as tackling issues revolving around resident physician work hours. I also hope to get to know more and more colleagues throughout Public Citizen and build connections.

Do you have advice for anyone looking to get into the field of health research?

There are so many areas in health research and public health that I would encourage anyone interested in working in this field to explore more than one area, for example by trying different internships or volunteer roles, and to see what kind of work interests them the most or works best for their skillset. I know for example that sometimes people who have focused more on the policy side are afraid to switch to more of a patient advocacy side or vice versa because they feel that it’s outside their area of expertise. But I am a big believer in interdisciplinary work and think that the different perspectives that you can bring to health research can really benefit each other. Sometimes you can’t see a way forward because you’re caught up in your own way of thinking, and an outside view can really help.