Associate director of occupational toxicology
Merck & Co.
Michelle Hernandez’s interest in public health and safety was born during her undergraduate program at Montclair State University, where she was first introduced to exposure science. She then joined the Environmental Health Sciences graduate program at New York University and studied the health effects of dust from the World Trade Center site.
“Understanding the real-world impact of such an event left a lasting impression on me, such that I wanted to help keep people safe in their work environments. Safety is not an easy task and it is almost a thankless job, but doing what is right is not always easy.”
Now the associate director of occupational toxicology at Merck & Co., Hernandez says that her favorite part of the job is ensuring that everyone across the business is able to go home safely.
“I also thoroughly enjoy how my job requires me to be on the cutting edge of the personalized medicine revolution,” she says.
“This requires understanding the molecular functions of the chemicals and compounds that are handled and how they can adversely impact the health of workers.”
For her, safety is “an awareness mindset, informed by a matrix of everyday information which can be applied at home, work or social events.
“A safety mindset places the onus on us as individuals and expands out to the collective. This creates an environment of partnership and collaboration with our family, work team and business customers, aiding open dialogue and rapid communication.”
Her background in molecular biology, inhalation toxicology and pharmaceuticals is rare in the occupational toxicology space.
“I recognize this is the future of personalized medicine,” she says, “and I encourage all exposure scientists to engage in this form of dynamic thinking, not only to overcome today’s challenges, but to develop tomorrow’s solutions”.
Hernandez says that she is not only proud to be recognized for her work as a scientist and D&I Change Ambassador, but also of the prolific work of her peers and their industry influence.
“This type of recognition inspires me as I know I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. I hope this award encourages and inspires other female EHS professionals to keep doing what they’re doing and advocate their own contributions to our industry.”