Friendly, Sincere, Resourceful, Determined, Open-minded

These are the words that Scott Rhodes, PhD, MPH, uses to describe himself. Rhodes is a professor in and the chair of the Department of Social Science and Health Policy, and he directs the Program in Community-Engaged Research within the Wake Forest Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Rhodes has published more than 250 articles and book chapters on the health of marginalized populations, including immigrants, African American/Black and Latinx persons, and sexual and gender minorities.

A man in a navy jacket and striped bow tie stands in an office with large windows, one hand resting on the back of a chair

Rhodes works with an array of research teams within Wake Forest School of Medicine that focus on health equity and disparities in the US South. His current projects support health care access among transgender Latina woman across North Carolina and among gay men and transgender women of color in rural Appalachia (north of Asheville), and he leads a new project to explore and promote the health of food insecure persons using peer navigation and mHealth. Rhodes also works on a national level to explore and understand immigration policy enforcement, health care access and health outcomes among Latinx populations in the United States.

But that is just the beginning of his story. Read about what inspires him and how his life experiences shaped his commitment to community-based research by focusing not on just science and evidence but the people within a community.

What are some of your hobbies or interests outside of work?

Above all, I appreciate time with my husband, whether we are at home or traveling. I also love to be outside. I do not take it too seriously, but I enjoy tending the garden on Saturday mornings, and the pandemic has provided opportunities to reacquaint myself with the birds in our backyard. I also enjoy reading (mostly fiction), listening to music and watching international series on Netflix (especially political/spy dramas). I am happy that some of the COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, and we are able to socialize with friends and family once again.

What’s your experience and how did you get into the field?

My dad was a professor of engineering, and my mom has a master’s of science degree in public health. She also has been a lifelong activist, and I am a blend of the two of them. They taught me the value of science and evidence and the value of translating science and evidence into concrete actions to improve lives. When the HIV epidemic emerged, I felt like I should help, that I should use science to identify and meet the needs and priorities of communities I was part of and connected to.

I also served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala for three years, and through that experience I became acutely aware of the profound needs that exist in the broader world, though I also learned of the amazing assets that can be found within communities. That is probably why I enjoy community-based research; I like people, and I like hearing from those whom we want to help. I want the science I am part of to be informed by community members and build on their insights, priorities and assets.

What inspires or motivates you?

My motivation comes from a desire to improve the health and well-being of others. I really want to make a difference, and I think that science allows me to do just that. Another source of inspiration is encouraging and supporting others who want to change the world. This includes members of my research team, students, trainees, other faculty and members of the community at large. We have smart and dedicated staff, students and trainees here at Wake Forest, and members of our local community are committed to working collaboratively and freely share their insights and wisdom.

What made you want to teach?

I am committed to knowledge generation through research. Helping others assimilate knowledge and learn is exciting. I want others to build on our current knowledge base and help us all progress. Building knowledge together leads to a better tomorrow.

Why do you enjoy teaching at Wake Forest School of Medicine?

I have been at Wake Forest since 2003. This was my first and only faculty job. I have been able to excel because Wake Forest is a special place. Wake Forest attracts talented people; our students are smart, our faculty are leading experts in their fields, and our staff is dedicated to what we all are trying to get accomplished in research, teaching and service. You know, I think we don’t acknowledge it enough, but we are a kind and compassionate group of people. The COVID-19 pandemic opened my eyes to how kind and compassionate we are. We care about each other; we reach out to one another; and we support one another.

What advice do you have for future students?

Vicarious learning is invaluable; we all can learn a lot from watching others, those who are further along on their trajectories in school or in their careers. I think it is also super important to find peers and mentors who challenge you, who always push you to be better. Finally, I also think that you must be passionate about what you are studying and what you plan to do.

What skills should someone pursuing a career in health have?

Critical and linear thinking and writing and people skills are important for a career in health, science and medicine. Patience and perseverance are important too!