Featured Researcher — Jingzhen Ginger Yang, PhD, MPH

Featured Researcher — Jingzhen Ginger Yang, PhD, MPH 150 150 Natalie Wilson

Dr. Jingzhen (Ginger) Yang, a principal investigator in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, has a national and international reputation as a leader in pediatric injury prevention research.

Currently, Dr. Yang is directing three NIH-funded R01 studies, and her research focuses on two areas: improving sports-related concussion recovery among children and adolescents and improving safe driving among teens. She is also the 2020 recipient of Indiana University’s Tony A. Mobley International Distinguished Alumni Award, which recognizes outstanding international graduates of the university’s School of Public Health.

Dr. Yang’s research is critical: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), unintentional injuries — including those caused by burns, drowning, falls, poisoning and road traffic — continue to be the leading cause of death among children ages 0 to 19 years, accounting for nearly 44% of all deaths in this age group. Additionally, more than 9.2 million children each year are treated in emergency departments across the country for nonfatal injuries. Dr. Yang’s research continues to significantly advance scientific knowledge to the benefit of children and their families by improving injury prevention and recovery.

And it was Dr. Yang’s own experience as a competitive volleyball player, and the sports-related injuries she experienced, that led her to purse her career in injury research.

Read on to learn more about Dr. Yang’s work and research career.

How did you decide to pursue a career in research? What was your path to your current role?

Growing up in China, I played competitive volleyball. I was recruited when I was 12, because I was taller than the average Chinese girl. During my senior year of high school, I almost became a professional player, but ironically, I wasn’t tall enough. I was told that if I were 3 cm taller, I would have made it. Although it was a big disappointment, when I attended college in China, I continued playing volleyball and majored in volleyball, studying physical education and sports science.

When I came to the United States to pursue my doctorate degree in public health (which was not offered in China at the time), I attended prospective students’ day at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I was able to speak with faculty members. The faculty members that day happened to be from their Injury Prevention Research Center (UNC IPRC), one of the nine CDC-funded injury control research centers (ICRC) in the country. They learned I was an athlete and invited me to come work with them. I accepted their offer and worked as a graduate research assistant during my years at Chapel Hill. I conducted my dissertation research on sports injury among high school athletes, and I had the opportunity to work with renowned researchers in the sports injury field.

After graduating from the University of North Carolina, I accepted a faculty position at the University of Iowa College of Public Health in their Injury Prevention Research Center, also CDC-funded, for eight years. Then I was a faculty member at Kent State University before joining Nationwide Children’s.

My early experience as a competitive athlete and my own sports-related injuries led to my research interest and career in sports injury. I am happy that I can focus my research lens on sports injury prevention, combining my passion for sports with promoting the health and wellbeing of children and adolescents.

How did you decide to pursue your work at Nationwide Children’s?

The Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) in the Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s is one of the country’s nine CDC-funded ICRCs and is the only one focused on injuries to children and adolescents.

My favorite part of research is working alongside my colleagues who are always super motivated and inspire me daily. All the researchers at CIRP are dedicated to translating cutting edge injury research into education, advocacy and advances in clinical care aimed at reducing injury-related pediatric death and disability worldwide. I enjoy working at CIRP because my colleagues are also passionate about and interested in injury research, and I can bounce ideas off them. I feel like we all speak the same language, and I have constant opportunity for collaboration and feedback.

The overarching goal of my work is to prevent injury and improve safety among children and adolescents so that they can grow and thrive without injuries. Nationwide Children’s, which has been consistently named one of the country’s best children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report, is an ideal place for me to expand both my personal and research goals.

Fun Facts About Dr. Zhao

What would be your dream job if you didn’t work in research?

I’d like to be a computer software engineer. Computers fundamentally change the way we think and live.

What’s your favorite food?

I love Asian noodles and have eaten them since my childhood. Believe it or not, noodles have some connections with Chinese Kung Fu!

Favorite band/music?

Michael Jackson is my favorite — he’s a great dancer and singer and has influenced multiple generations around the world.

Favorite way to relax?

I love to go to the beach or mountains with my family. When I lived in California, I frequented the beach along the Pacific Ocean. I hope to spend time enjoying the Great Lakes soon when COVID-19 infections wane in the United States.

If you could have coffee with anyone (from history or who’s alive today), who would you meet?

I’d like to meet current president Joe Biden to talk to him about scientific research and ask him to invest more in it.

How does your research serve our patients and our community?

My research has addressed some of the leading causes of death and disability among children and adolescents in the United States and globally.

Concussion Research

Children and adolescents in the United States sustain about 2 million sport-related concussions each year. A concussion can have adverse effects on physical, cognitive, emotional and sleep health and even lead to missed school days, decreased social activities, depressed mood and lower quality of life.

One of the biggest questions in pediatric concussion research is when children can safely return to normal activities, like school, sports and driving. Physical and cognitive rest after a concussion is beneficial, but the optimal levels of rest needed to promote recovery haven’t been well defined. Current clinical guidelines for pediatric concussion management are primarily based on expert consensus rather than substantial evidence.

Our concussion research aims to provide evidence to help physicians — including those caring for patients in concussion clinics and the emergency department at Nationwide Children’s — develop more effective concussion treatment plans. By collaborating with Nationwide Children’s Sports Medicine and those who care directly for patients, findings from our research can be implemented to improve patient care.

Sports provide children an opportunity to exercise their bodies and minds. I know the value of playing sports firsthand. I want to encourage children to participate in their favorite sports and not let the fear of concussions keep them from playing. As an injury researcher, I will do everything possible to keep them safe. Our concussion research helps children and adolescents continue to play sports in a safe way and recover effectively if injuries happen.

Teen Driving Research

Studies show that teen drivers are at greatest risk for crashes. Parents want to help keep their kids safe, and we can equip them to play an important role in their teens’ safe driving. By motivating their teens to engage in safe driving behaviors early on, parents can help teens establish safe driving habits that they carry into adulthood. We want teens to be safe drivers throughout their lives – to protect themselves and others.

Additionally, the results of our teen driving safety randomized controlled trials, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and CDC, will have a significant impact on juvenile traffic courts’ practices and policies aimed to improve teen driving safety by reducing crashes, injuries and deaths.

About the author

Marketing Strategist, Research Communications

Natalie is a passionate and enthusiastic writer working to highlight the groundbreaking research of the incredible faculty and staff across Nationwide Children's Hospital and the Abigail Wexner Research Institute. Her work at Nationwide Children's marries her past interests and experiences with her passion for helping children thrive and a long-held scientific curiosity that dates back to competing in the Jefferson Lab Science Bowl in middle school. Natalie holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Wake Forest University, as well as minors in women's, gender & sexuality studies and interdisciplinary writing. As an undergraduate student, Natalie studied writing and journalism, engaged with anthropological and sociological research with a focus on race and ethnic relations, served as executive editor for the student newspaper, the Old Gold & Black, and gained marketing experience as an intern for a nonprofit entrepreneurial incubator, Winston Starts, as well as by working for Wake Forest University School of Law Office of Communication and Public Relations and its Innocence and Justice Clinic.