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Meet the team - Yangmei Li

Published on Thursday, 27 January 2022

I was born and grew up in Xiamen, a beautiful small coastal city in South-Eastern Fujian, China. I have an aunt who worked as operating theatre nurse in one of the top children's hospitals in China (that's my aunt in the photo with me when I was a child, and a close family friend). She used to tell me stories about life in hospitals when I was a little girl. I felt the pain of young patients and their families, and became fascinated by how healthcare professionals can save or completely change someone's life. Their professionalism, dedication, courage and care, were all so touching and inspiring in the eyes of a little girl. I remain full of admiration for them. Since then, I have known that if we intervene in a child's life it can have a big impact, which may continue as they grow up.

When it came to deciding on higher education, I decided to study Preventive Medicine at Peking University. In my final year we covered epidemiology and I enjoyed this so much I wanted to become an epidemiologist, or 'disease detective'. These are the researchers who search for the cause of disease, identify people who are at risk, determine how to control or stop the spread or prevent it from happening again. I felt that by doing this I could save or change the lives of more people than if I was a medical doctor.

I then won a scholarship to study for my Masters degree in Epidemiology at the University of Cambridge, followed by a PhD in Public Health and Primary Care. I have enjoyed learning and doing research in the UK as health care is provided by the NHS for everybody. Also, a lot of medical records are routinely kept as electronic data which makes research in the UK easier to carry out compared with many other countries.

After I finished my academic training I came to Oxford to join the NPEU as a Researcher in Statistics and Epidemiology. I have since worked with the NIHR Policy Research Unit in Maternal Health & Care, based in the NPEU, on various projects looking at how different risk factors, such as ethnicity, age and deprivation, may affect the health outcomes of mothers and babies. It is a fulfilling job – not only because the research that I contribute to has the potential of improving the life of thousands at the early stage of life, but also because a lot of the studies I have worked on focus on uncovering gaps in health or health care and then how to start filling them. It is meaningful - to me, every gap is a gap that is too wide.

I worked on one study that looked at whether birth outcomes, such as prematurity, were linked to ethnicity. We found that in England and Wales, Black Caribbean, Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Black African babies are all more likely to be born too early (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) compared with White British babies. Interestingly, in all ethnic groups, babies whose mothers were born outside the UK are less likely to be born preterm. Another project I recently worked on was a study aiming to provide an up-to-date snapshot of how many women were given a six week health check by their GP after they gave birth. We found that between 2015 and 2018, nearly 40% of women did not have such a check in England. Younger women and those in poorer areas were least likely to have a record of such a check, suggesting that postnatal care in general practice may be missing some of the women who need it most.

I have now started working on another project looking at how pre-pregnancy care might improve the health of mothers and babies. The timing of prevention here is even before a life is formed. Maternity care in China and UK are quite different, but I can see the need to improve health starting very early in life is the same in both countries. Thinking about my childhood inspiration, I am happy that I am now able to do something to help people live a better life from the very beginning, or should we say, even before life begins.

Updated: Wednesday, 17 April 2024 12:48 (v5)