(3) A Lesson in Collaboration at NNABI

I had an incredible time at my summer internship with NNABl, a women’s health startup that is creating a natural supplement for women experiencing perimenopause, the lesser-known stage prior to menopause. The experience has given me valuable insight into the world of work due to its focus on entrepreneurship. The brand has yet to launch, and plans to do so in March, meaning that my internship was crucial in laying the groundwork for their branding and consumer interaction.

Because the company is still in its infancy, I was given a unique perspective working directly with NNABI’s founders. I learned of the many factors someone needs to consider when starting a company, ranging from the look of the website to social media outreach to analyzing the results of a clinical trial. I can confidently say that if I had worked for a larger, already-established company, my work would not have been as varied nor as important to the company’s growth as it was with NNABI. An important lesson I learned was that working for a small company means you experience incredible highs, such as hearing good reviews from the trials, as well as incredible lows, such as seeing other, larger companies, making similar product claims as you are.

In terms of social justice, I have learned a valuable lesson about empowerment. While knowledge and research on perimenopause is growing among experts, there is still much work to be done to educate the general public about the symptoms that women go through and how they can impact a woman’s life. It was uplifting to see my bosses recognize a growing field and ask themselves how they could contribute to solving a problem that they themselves were experiencing. There is a lot of social injustice aligned with women’s health, particularly in issues like the gender data gap, the lack of comprehensive sexual education, and the misdiagnoses of women experiencing perimenopause. However, NNABI has made it clear that they do not plan to shy away from any of these, and their efforts have been reflected in my work for this summer, like the conversational “cheat sheet” between patients and doctors and a survey asking younger women about their views on menopause.

There are many things that I wish I knew before I started my internship. The first is that time management is a crucial part of any job, but especially in a virtual internship. The fact that there was no office for me to commute to meant I was the one holding myself accountable for getting the work done. It is important to know yourself and how you work, so planning my work time has been crucial for my success. Another important lesson is to adapt to your supervisor’s leadership style. I had gone into the internship assuming I would be given orders and tasks only, but due to the small nature of the company, my relationship with my bosses was much more collaborative. It meant I had to be much more creative with my work and come up with ideas outside of my tasks.

Finally, I would say a good piece of advice for anyone wanting to pursue an internship in women’s health is that you must learn how to collaborate with everyone.  My internship in women’s health was marked by the constant collaboration that my bosses and I had with other women, some of whom weren’t even involved with NNABI. One of my supervisors is involved with a company called Chief, a networking community for women, and through that service, we were able to meet with lifestyle influencers, naturopaths, doctors, and graphic designers, each with unique advice to give. The lesson is that nothing can be gained from not reaching out to others, and it is always beneficial to ask for advice if you need it—a message that will continue to be helpful for me during my time as Brandeis.

(2) Self Advocacy in Women’s Health and the Ecological Model

One of the most impactful things that I have learned at Brandeis came from the class Public Health: U.S. History and Policy with Professor Sarah Curi. The class quickly became a favorite of mine for its rich discussion, relevant material, and its holistic view of public health in American both then and now. It was there that I learned a theory that has become a mainstay in my approach to my internship: the ecological model of public health. This model claims that public health measures may be implemented at many different levels of society, starting with the federal government, and specifying all the way down to the self. In the same way that the U.S. government can create legislation to strengthen the wellbeing of all citizens, individual communities can work to care for its members, and vice versa. Learning about the ecological model of public health can be empowering for many people. In the same way the outside world impacts our everyday lives, we can be just as impactful through self-advocacy and education. 

One great example of individuals applying the ecological model of public health is the health non-profit GirlTrek. Started by T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison, GirlTrek was founded with the mission of addressing the growing rates of preventable obesity-related diseases among black women in America by arranging daily walks in neighborhoods across the country. This is a prime example of the ecological model because it is just two people noticing a health disparity in their community and starting a movement that radiated outward to their state, and then the whole country. Learning about this model and this example are incredibly meaningful to me. If these two women can create meaningful change, there is nothing me or anyone else doing the same.

This lesson has been crucial to my internship with NNABI, a women’s health company currently developing a natural holistic treatment for women in perimenopause.  Perimenopause is the hormonal stage that women starting at age forty experience and can last several years. However, because it is not as well-known or researched as its successor stage, menopause, many women seeking medical guidance for their symptoms are often misdiagnosed by physicians. The psychological symptoms like brain fog and irritability are often misdiagnosed as depression or anxiety. The hormonal symptoms are often confused with other conditions like a thyroid disorder. Using the ecological model of public health has helped me consider how NNABI can make an impact among women going through this stage.

One project that I am working on is a conversational “cheat sheet” that details to women how to initiate a discussion about perimenopause with their healthcare provider, giving them the tools to advocate for themselves to ensure they are not misdiagnosed. One example of these tools is to advocate for hormonal testing in the long term. Since perimenopause is categorized by undulating hormone levels, one blood test may be just a snapshot, and if levels were normal that day, perimenopause may be disregarded as a possibility. Information and advice like that is essential to the ecological model, because once one woman is informed about their symptoms and how to address them, that knowledge spreads to other women as well. The goal of NNABI is to empower women to be responsible for their own wellbeing, and to radiate that empowerment outwards to larger communities and even towards legislative change. My internship and my class have both taught me that social justice, in public health or otherwise, often starts with the self.

(1) Exciting Summer in Women’s Health

This summer I am working as an intern for a women’s health startup called NNABI. NNABI a hormonal wellness company that is currently developing a holistic, natural supplement for women experiencing perimenopause, the lesser-known health stage prior to menopause. Perimenopause is incredibly common, with all women starting at the age of forty experiencing symptoms. Despite its prevalence, one survey shows that 73% of women are currently not treating their symptoms, instead choosing to “tough it out,” a view largely based in the stigma surrounding menopause.

NNABI aims to lower that percentage by raising awareness of this phase, both through helping women treat their symptoms naturally and through educating other groups about the overall importance of women’s health. I chose to work in this particular field because of my background in Health Science and Social Policy (HSSP), where I learned about many injustices that occur in the healthcare world. One of the most impactful is the gender data gap, or the disparities in research quantity and quality between medical issues that more commonly affect men, and issues that more commonly affect women. Research shows that healthcare solutions, like medications and their dosages, are often based in male physiology, which can lead to women experiencing adverse affects to medications.

NNABI, as well as other companies focusing on menopause, are dedicated to closing the gender data gap. One of my responsibilities this summer is to create a survey that the company will use to gain insight into how both women and men think of menopause. The main goal for the survey is to show that despite being extremely common, menopause is incredibly stigmatized. With NNABI, I am also working on ways to raise awareness of menopause among younger women. I have been researching possibilities of getting menopause to be in sexual education so that students of all genders will be informed later on in life.

My current project is to do audits of the category and of the audience. I am currently researching other menopause supplement companies and analyzing their formulas and claims. I am also studying women’s conversations on social media surrounding perimenopause, looking at potential customers’ biggest concerns and frustrations. These projects will ultimately be crucial for NNABI’s branding. Since the company is still new, there is work to be done in explaining exactly how this company is different from its competitors. The small steps of combing through competitor websites, completing their product quizzes, and viewing their social media are all ways of understanding the current market. Reading and watching real conversations between women about perimenopause are smaller steps towards revealing what gaps exist in women’s understanding of their symptoms and the solutions that are available to them. My observations from these two projects will be synthesized into a company reference sheet, which will help when deciding on branding choices like pricing and audience interactions.

I believe that the work I am doing this summer will be a small part in the overall fight to redefine women’s health in the United States and worldwide. Overall progress in this fight will be when issues like the gender data gap and menopausal stigma are minimized. NNABI is a company that is committed to changing the definition of women’s health by highlighting menopause as an issue that impacts everyone. In my research, I found this sentiment echoed in this quote: “…women’s health, in other words, contributes in a significant way to stronger, healthier societies.”