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July 24, 2018 - ATN Researcher Profile: Sarah Feldstein Ewing, PhD

Photo of Sarah Feldstein EwingThe window of time when we are young is what Dr. Sarah Feldstein Ewing has focused her career on. “Even if an adolescent gets off track slightly, they can live really adaptive and healthy lives,” Dr. Feldstein Ewing said. “My job is to provide a safety net to help them get back on track.”

Dr. Feldstein Ewing’s focus has always been on improving prevention and intervention programs for adolescents. Born in New Jersey, Dr. Feldstein Ewing attended college in Minnesota and then traveled quite a bit until settling in New York City. There, she worked with arrested foster kids at the Vera Institute. “I just really love working with teens,” Dr. Feldstein Ewing said. “I love seeing them succeed, and I really believe in their resilience.”

She then lived in Tennessee where she worked at the Office for Equal Opportunity at University of Tennessee. During and after college, she traveled to Ghana, Mali, and Equatorial Guinea, working with high risk youth in those countries too.

In Mali, she worked with homeless/street youth. In Equatorial Guinea, she worked with collaborators to develop HIV risk reduction projects. While in Ghana, she taught sixth grade at Ghana International School. After returning to the US, Dr. Feldstein Ewing pursued a degree in clinical psychology and completed her clinical training in pediatric psychology (specializing in HIV risk reduction for teens) at Brown University. Later, she made the move to New Mexico to conduct in neuroscience-related brain research.

Currently, Dr. Feldstein Ewing works at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) as a professor of child/adolescent psychiatry. Her role includes work with high risk youth in the context of substance use.

“I always loved working with high risk kids,” she said. “I keep gravitating to that work.” She is also the principal investigator for her Translational Research of Adolescent Change Lab (TRAC), which she built in 2015 to conduct studies that look at the neuro-mechanisms of treatment response in adolescents. She also has cause to celebrate the new clinical psychiatry PhD program at OHSU, which she co-founded, and will now serve as the Inaugural Director of Clinical Training. The new program is enrolling its first students this fall.

As a part of the ATN network, she serves as a co-principal investigator for ATN 156, We Test-2. The study focuses on adolescents ages 15-19 who are couples and men who have sex with men. The participants will complete a program together titled “Couples HIV Testing and Counseling” to help optimize the use of therapy for this age group. The method in which the counseling will be delivered (such as via video, or individualized) will be randomized to see which is most effective.

ATN 156 is currently in the participant recruitment site training phase, so Dr. Feldstein Ewing has visited sites in Detroit and New York City to deliver training. Additional sites are in Miami and San Diego. Dr. Tyrel Starks from Hunter College is the other co-principal investigator for We Test-2. “I’ve been training folks in the intervention program and it’s been great,” Feldstein Ewing said. “The folks on the ground are really super, especially Tyrel Starks.”

For a typical day, Dr. Feldstein Ewing works on a mix of activities, including Scale It Up, neuroscience projects, research, teaching, and direct practice with one clinic day a week. Her experience with neuroscience helps guide her work with young people. “The treatments we have for adolescent risk behavior are not very effective,” she said. “Also, the treatments we have for adults are not effective, and they’re even less effective for kids. Kids’ brains are different, and we are trying to figure out how their brains respond to treatment.”

Through her Translational Research of Adolescent Change Lab, she can see how well treatments work or don’t work. “I think my goal is to make sure that underrepresented kids have access to something that will help them,” she said. “I believe that all people have a natural desire to make healthy choices, and people want to live happy and healthy lives. I feel like my job is to help them get there.”

Dr. Feldstein Ewing’s main focus outside of work is her family, including a set of twins and an older son. She enjoys traveling with them, including a trip this summer to Denmark.

Learn more about ATN 156, We Test, on the Scale It Up website.