NIMHD Fellow Launick Saint-Fort Receives Fulbright Award to Address Immigration and Tobacco Use Behaviors in Luxembourg

Launick Saint-Fort, NIMHD Intramural Research Fellow funded by the NIH Office of the Director, has received a Fulbright U.S. Student Program Award to Luxembourg. Saint-Fort will conduct research at the Luxembourg Institute of Health and the Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg as part of a project to investigate “The Impact of Immigration on the State of Tobacco in the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg.”

Saint-Fort, a Haitian immigrant who came to the U.S. at age 11, said her career path hasn’t always been easy, but it was always one she knew would be worthwhile.

“I actually was a non-traditional student,” Saint-Fort stated in a post-award interview. “My journey as an undergraduate at Penn State Berks began five years post-high school graduation.”

Headshot of Ms. Launick Saint-Fort
Launick Saint-Fort

A graduate of Penn State Berks campus, Saint-Fort majored in biochemistry and molecular biology. She began her journey with the National Institutes of Health as a way to expand upon her research background.

“Considering that Penn State Berks is a satellite campus of the Pennsylvania State University System, funding and resources available to students at the main campus were not always accessible to us. For these reasons, it was very difficult for me to find good research opportunities,” said Saint-Fort.

With limited resources to advance her career goals at her home institution, Saint-Fort went on to participate in the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program through the University at Buffalo (SUNY). Following this program, Saint-Fort met a friend on campus who introduced her to the NIH Undergraduate Scholarship Program (UGSP).

“He was a UGSP scholar and told me about his experiences with the program. For me, it was such a great opportunity, not only because it provided undergraduate funding and a fellowship post-graduation, but it was also a chance to delve into the research world in ways that I’ve always dreamt of but never came to fruition due to lack of resources and opportunity,” said Saint-Fort.

When Saint-Fort first came to the NIH, she took residence with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Later, she developed an interest in behavioral health and decided to shift from a traditional wet laboratory to epidemiology and public health. As a result, she joined the lab of Dr. Kelvin Choi, Stadtman Investigator in the Intramural Research Program at NIMHD. Dr. Choi investigates disparities in tobacco use and tobacco product marketing.

“Launick is a very passionate and thoughtful junior researcher. Her interest in immigration and its impact on tobacco use behaviors stems from her own life experience. Her current research at NIMHD and proposed research in Luxembourg are true reflections of her interest,” said Dr. Choi.

“My current research focuses on tobacco use behaviors in the U.S. Black population—particularly, the difference in tobacco use behaviors between Black immigrants and U.S-born Blacks. My interest in the correlations between health behavior and immigration status inspired me to apply for a Fulbright Award, in hopes of examining these parallels among a population with a level of cultural diversity unique from that of the U.S.,” said Saint-Fort.

Saint-Fort explained she chose to study tobacco behavior and immigration status in Luxembourg to expand her knowledge in a country where nearly half of the population are immigrants and over a quarter of adults use tobacco daily. Yet, given these statistics, Luxembourg’s high immigrant population has yet to be explored as a potential factor contributing to the country’s current state of tobacco.

According to Saint-Fort, the Fulbright is an opportunity to determine if the immigrant health paradox (health-protective effect of foreign-born individuals despite lower socioeconomic status compared to their U.S.-born counterparts) were applied to the Luxembourg population, would there be similar or different results from that of the U.S. Saint-Fort believes if the trends in Luxembourg’s immigrant population are different from those in U.S. immigrants, perhaps this will expand the current literature and perspectives on immigrant health.

“In the U.S., our immigrant population comes from all over the world, while the immigrant population in Luxembourg comes mostly from other European countries. I am interested in seeing if this difference in the origins of the immigrant populations between the U.S. and Luxembourg result in distinct tobacco use behaviors, “said Saint-Fort.

Saint-Fort described the opportunity as a way to provide Luxembourg with a different approach to their tobacco problem and return to the U.S. with more knowledge and cultural experiences that enable her to be a culturally sensitive physician in a diverse U.S. population. She also mentions that the opportunity will allow her to improve her French and learn Luxembourgish (the native language) while conducting her research and interacting with the people.

In applying for the Fulbright Award, Saint-Fort described it as a year-long process in which she developed a proposal that would not only be of interest to the host country of Luxembourg but also of interest and value to the U.S. Therefore, Saint-Fort will serve as a cultural ambassador to promote mutual understanding and cultural exchange between the U.S. and Luxembourg.

“I am excited and humbled to represent the U.S. as an immigrant who came to the U.S. in pursuit of the American Dream and show what it truly means to be an American,” said Saint-Fort.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government; it is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the U.S. and other countries. Fulbright scholars address critical global challenges in all areas while building relationships, knowledge, and leadership, in support of the long-term interests. The Fulbright alumni have achieved distinction in many fields, including 59 who have been awarded the Nobel Prize, 82 who have received Pulitzer Prizes, and 37 who have served as a head of state or government.

Saint-Fort will serve for a duration of nine months in Luxembourg under the leaderships of Maria Ruiz-Castell (Ph.D., M.P.H.) at the Luxembourg Institute of Health and Catherine Charpentier (M.D.) at the Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg.

Posted May 25, 2018