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URMC / Clinical & Translational Science Institute / Stories / January 2020 / Tiffany Panko Named AAAS IF/THEN Ambassador

Tiffany Panko Named AAAS IF/THEN Ambassador

Tiffany Panko, M.D., M.B.A., a postdoctoral researcher in the Rochester Postdoc Partnership, was named one of 125 IF/THEN® ambassadors by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). IF/THEN® seeks to further women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by empowering current innovators and inspiring the next generation of pioneers.

In order to make the IF/THEN® cut, Panko had to impress not only a panel of AAAS judges, but more than 150 teenage girls from around the country. She was selected for her contributions to research, ability to communicate about science, and her commitment to inspiring young women in STEM.Tiffany Panko (second from left) and several other IF/THEN ambassadors pose with Geena Davis, award-winning actress and women’s equality activist (third from left).

Panko, who is the only Deaf IF/THEN® ambassador, is not only passionate about supporting women in STEM, she’s also an ardent advocate for health literacy and reproductive justice. She’s currently conducting a study – the first of its kind – to investigate whether Deaf women have the same level of understanding about contraceptives and family planning as hearing women.

Her preliminary results suggest that Deaf women are at a disadvantage – probably due to a lack of access to materials and consultations in their native language. Once Panko understands this disadvantage, she plans to work toward leveling the playing field to ensure all women have equal access to family planning and contraceptive information.

As a doctor and researcher, Panko is in a position to help many women in our community, but she might not have chosen this career path were it not for a few strong mentors. Deaf women, who face many unique obstacles, are very rare in STEM. 

“I had a host of great teachers and I had access to language from birth, which gave me a good start,” said Panko, highlighting a basic necessity that many Deaf children go without. “But I didn’t think about medical school or research when I was young.”

It wasn’t until college, when she fell in love with a class on the biology of mental disorders that she realized medical school might be an option for her.

“When I mentioned how much I loved the class to my mentor, Peter Hauser, and he encouraged me to think about medical school… and here I am.”

In addition to Hauser, Panko credits her success to a long line of wonderful teachers at the Rochester School for the Deaf and to her very supportive Deaf parents. As an IF/THEN Ambassador, she’s looking forward to being a role model for the next generation of women and Deaf researchers.

Her advice to young women who are interested in science: try everything. “Take lots of different classes. Figure out what you like and what you don’t. You never know where it will take you.”

Michael Hazard | 1/10/2020

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