Research Staff Spotlight: Omar Ordaz

Empty sandy ocean beach and Haystack Rock ArtHouse Studios

The “Institute’s Staff Spotlight” is new for 2021. Each month, we will feature an Institute Staff member and share with the community a behind the scenes through a question and answer session to learn more about their research areas, career path and goals, but most importantly recognize their hard work.

For our April 2021 Staff Spotlight, we highlight Omar Ordaz, a Research Assistant II in the Clinical Physiology and Chronobiology Lab.

Tell us more about yourself (career path, goals, anything you want us to know, etc.)
“I first started at the Institute when I had an opportunity to be part of an NIH trainee program through a Portland State University award. The scholarship had a goal to increase diversity in health research for undergraduate students. I attended a career fair at OHSU and met Dr. Nicole Bowles. Shortly after, I was matched with Dr. Steven Shea’s lab, and that’s when I became interested in exploring areas of sleep and circadian rhythms and how they can be integrated with a medical anthropology lens. After the internship and working with Dr. Bowles, I applied for a supplementary research grant from the NHLBI. In the grant application, I wanted to explore health disparities in hypertension among Black Americans with qualitative measures and capture dietary measurements to better understand circadian rhythms that contribute to these disparities. My career goals and interest within the last two years have included preparing to apply for an MD/PhD program in medical anthropology, to help achieve my future goal of translating community-based participatory research into clinical practice.”

Omar Ordaz Research Assistant II Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences

What current research projects are you working on?
“I currently support the biomedical sleep studies in the Clinical Physiology and Chronobiology Lab. I appreciate the interdisciplinary aspects of sleep science—for example, our team includes a cardiologist, a sleep psychologist and project leads with a variety of interests in sleep and circadian biology. In my role, I coordinate community-oriented aspects of the sleep and blood pressure study, including working with our community research partners. For example, I worked with Dr. Raina Croff, anthropologist in the Dept. of Neurology, and Dr. Bowles to design, implement, and analyze focus groups for the larger study (Omar has supported the data analysis and publication of a paper titled, “More Than a Statistic: a Qualitative Study of COVID-19 Treatment and Prevention Optimization for Black Americans”). Additionally, I spent a lot of time organizing meal-tracking as part of one of the sleep studies, to explore potential interactions between meal timing, circadian rhythms in appetite and disparities in nocturnal blood pressure. I believe that maintaining good sleep and other behaviors that harmonize with our biological rhythms is a question of access, and should be explored more thoroughly with an anthropological lens.”

What do you like most about working for OHSU/Institute/occupational health research?
“I enjoy working at the Institute because I often see our connection to (and engagement with) the Portland and Oregon communities, through studying working populations and partnering with community organizations or informing policy. The goal of the Institute is to improve the work-life of Oregonians and this aligns with my interests in studying health disparities. Also, sleep studies are definitely team-based efforts and working together as a team, alongside experts in the field, is very rewarding.”

Home-life is very important to our health and well-being and is interconnected to our work-life. What are your favorite hobbies outside of work?
“I love to spend as much time outdoors as I can. Often times I walk home or walk to work to have extra minutes outside. I really enjoy bicycling and hiking. One of my favorite hikes and natural wonderlands to explore is the Hoh Rainforest in the Olympic Peninsula. I also appreciate art including photography and drawing. I have had the opportunity to be published in a few local art journals. I think art is a great way to balance of the “left-brained” nature of scientific work, although I have started to learn how creative research can be—especially when developing research questions.”