Academic Affairs & Faculty Development

VPCAT Research Scholars Program

2022-2023

2022-2023 Scholar Cohort

Jesse C. Christensen, PhD, DPT, MS

Title:  Assistant Professor, Physical Therapy & Athletic Training, College of Health

I am Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Athletic Training at the University of Utah and Director of the Gait Lab at the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System. My research focuses on improving rehabilitation processes for medically complex older adults with lower limb impairments, particularly dysvascular lower limb loss. Nearly a million adults in the States are living with lower limb loss and this number is expected to double by 2050. Importantly, the vast majority of lower limb loss (>80%) result from dysvascular problems, compounded by underlying comorbidities, chronic physical inactivity, and history of poor health self-management. My goal is to implement innovative behavior health strategies in older adults at high risk for lower limb loss. I have a particular passion working with medically complex older adults with lower limb impairments and aim to use the knowledge gained from my research to continue working with this underserved population.

Email:  jesse.christensen@hsc.utah.edu

Meghan M. Cirulis, MD, MSCI

Title:  Assistant Professor, Division of Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, Intermountain Medical Center

I am an Assistant Professor of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Intermountain Medical Center. I care for patients with pulmonary hypertension. My research is focused on decreasing pulmonary hypertension-related morbidity and mortality. Failure of the right ventricle in the face of elevated pulmonary artery pressure is a final common pathway for most forms of pulmonary hypertension and often leads to death. Many factors are thought to alter how the right ventricle adapts or maladapts to pressure overload, one of which is biological sex and related sex hormones. My research aims to explore the effects of biological sex and sex hormones on right ventricle function in patients with chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension. The goal of my work is to identify factors that may help clinicians predict which patients with pulmonary hypertension will progress to right ventricle failure and to discover treatment strategies that may prevent or rescue right ventricle dysfunction.

Email:  Meghan.Cirulis@imail.org

Rebecca K. Delaney, PhD, MS

Title:  Research Assistant Professor, Division of Health System Innovation & Research, Department of Population Health Sciences

I am a developmental psychologist and Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences. My research focuses on designing and evaluating interventions that empower patients to be involved in their medical care and decisions. When patients are engaged in their care, they experience better health outcomes and well-being. However, challenges exist that impede patient engagement and patient-provider communication, such as lack of information, uncertainty due to complex diagnoses, and no clear best treatment options. To address these barriers, I create interventions—designed for and by patients—to improve clinical care and the health of patients with chronic health conditions. I use patient-centered methods, such focus groups and interviews, to inform the design and development of decision support tools. The tools can range from pamphlets to interactive apps to support patients. Through this research, I hope to improve clinical care and the long-term health of patients.

Email:  rebecca.delaney@hsc.utah.edu

Brian Flaherty, MD

Title:  Assistant Professor, Pediatric Critical Care, Pediatrics

I am an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Critical Care. I am focused on improving the quality of care in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) by developing and implementing evidence-based practices for common conditions. Currently, numerous conditions commonly encountered in the PICU lack evidence to identify effective treatments leading to highly variable care between hospitals. This high variability means that some patients receive ineffective and potentially harmful care and some patients fail to receive effective therapies. A major barrier to research to develop evidence-based practices is lack of a large database to analyze the effects of treatments. My current research is focused on creating a large, national database to enable comparative effectiveness research to identify effective treatments for common conditions treated in the PICU. I will initially use this database to study the medications used in the care of bronchiolitis, the most common diagnosis in the PICU. Future work will focus on implementing the effective bronchiolitis therapies.

Email:  brian.flaherty@hsc.utah.edu

Evan V. Goldstein, PhD, MPP

Title:  Assistant Professor, Division of Health System Innovation & Research, Department of Population Health Sciences

I am a tenure-track Assistant Professor in the Division of Health System Innovation and Research in the Department of Population Health Sciences at the University of Utah. I am an early-stage investigator with a background in health policy and health services research and advanced training in the social sciences. Broadly, my research evaluates the quality and use of health services by underserved and vulnerable patient populations, especially mental health services; the impact of public policies on health care; and the effectiveness of suicide prevention interventions. Persons of less privileged socioeconomic status, persons of color, and sexual and gender minorities take their own lives at alarming rates in our country. However, many vulnerable community members often cannot access critical suicide risk detection or prevention services. My long-term goal is to establish a translational research program to understand modifiable social and health system determinants of suicide risk and racial and ethnic disparities in suicide. Through this work, I seek to provide health systems and policymakers with knowledge and tools for implementing culturally-competent interventions and making measurable progress in reducing disparities in suicide outcomes among young and working-age adult populations.

Email:  evan.goldstein@hsc.utah.edu

Samantha J. Gustafson, PhD, AuD, CCC-A

Title:  Assistant Professor, Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders, College of Health

I am a clinically-trained pediatric audiologist and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. I strive to improve the quality-of-life of children who are Deaf/hard of hearing by improving their communication and academic outcomes. My research focuses on how children with typical hearing learn to successfully listen in complex and noisy classroom environments and how hearing assistive technology (e.g., hearing aids, remote microphone systems, cochlear implants) can help children who are Deaf/hard of hearing overcome listening challenges in their classrooms. By using a combination of brain- and behavior-based methods, my current line of research describes the underlying mechanisms and consequences of competing noise and distractors on listening outcomes like speech recognition and listening effort. These findings will inform future work aiming to identify children who are at risk for increased communication difficulty (i.e., listening-related fatigue, slowed academic progress) and pinpoint potential windows for intervention to mitigate consequences of these listening-related challenges.

Email:  Samantha.Gustafson@utah.edu

Kathleen M. Job, PhD, DABCP

Title:  Assistant Professor, Division of Pediatric Clinical Pharmacology, Department of Pediatrics

I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and a board-accredited clinical pharmacologist. My research focuses on advancing clinical care by integrating physiology and pharmacology into approaches for designing, conducting, and interpreting clinical trials in children and pregnant individuals with chronic disease. Her current work will determine optimal dosing of asthma drugs in pregnant individuals. In this population, optimal dosing involves balancing appropriate drug exposure to control symptoms in the mother with minimized drug exposure to the fetus. The optimal dose that achieves this balance in pregnant individuals is unknown for most drugs. Dosing is likely different in this population because anatomic and physiologic alterations due to normal growth and pregnancy can affect drug disposition substantially. The lack of appropriate dosing information is an urgent, unmet public health need that can result in harm to the mother and the baby.

Email:  kate.job@hsc.utah.edu

Schola N. Matovu, PhD, RN

Title:  Assistant Professor, Acute & Chronic Care, College of Nursing

I am a gerontological nursing researcher and Assistant Professor in the College of Nursing. In my role as a researcher, I strive to advance science and contribute to alleviating health inequities experienced by marginalized older adults in the global community, particularly those with caregiving responsibilities. And, as an educator and leader, I endeavor to prepare future leaders who will advance science and health equity through the lenses of advocacy, service, and empowerment. My foundational research focused on understanding experiences and psychosocial well-being of grandparent-caregivers for grandchildren affected by HIV/AIDS in Uganda. Over the next 12 months, I will be advancing my program of research by piloting a project in Uganda that will use a formative community-engaged research approach to inform the development of an intervention designed to promote economic empowerment, peer group support, and health of grandmothers who provide primary care for grandchildren in Uganda. I am also planning to submit a career development award (K01) in March 2022. My roles outside of academia, include being a co-founder and Executive Director of Nurse-to-Nurse Global Initiative, a nonprofit whose mission, in part, is to promote the leadership and professional development of nurses, especially those working in under resourced settings.

Email:  schola.matovu@nurs.utah.edu

Lindsay J. May, MD, FRCPC

Title:  Associate Professor, Division of Pediatric Cardiology, Department of Pediatrics

I am a pediatric cardiologist specializing in heart failure and transplantation. My research interest is the influence of family and community factors in pediatric heart failure outcomes, such as hospital readmission and quality of life. This is relevant because children with heart failure are at high risk of hospital readmission, need for heart transplant, and poor quality of life. Although family and social context are known to be important determinants in adult heart failure outcomes, little is known about these in pediatrics. These topics are relevant because the resources available to support patients and families once they leave the hospital, and caregiver support are highly varied. My unique approach is to determine which subpopulations are at risk of poor outcomes, then use qualitative methods and patient-reported outcome measures to understand the challenges our families face when caring for a child with heart failure, and assess patient and caregiver quality of life.

Email:  lindsay.may@hsc.utah.edu

Jennifer Ose, PhD, MSc, Diploma

Title:  Assistant Professor, Division of Cancer Population Science, Department of Population Health Sciences

I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences at the University of Utah and a member in the Cancer Control and Population Sciences Program at Huntsman Cancer Institute. I earned my doctorate degree in cancer epidemiology (summa cum laude) from the Medical Faculty at the University of Heidelberg, Germany and completed a master’s in Public Health and a master’s equivalent in Nutrition. I am a molecular and cancer epidemiologist whose research focuses on modifiable lifestyle factors and biologic factors in cancer prevention and prognosis. Furthermore, I am interested in reproductive concerns in patients diagnosed with early-onset colorectal cancer. I received pilot funding from the Cancer Control and Population Sciences Program at Huntsman Cancer Institute and the Utah Grand Challenges program to address pressing research questions, such as body composition, cachexia, and reproductive concerns in cancer patients.

Email:  Jennie.Ose@hci.utah.edu

Afaf E. Osman, MD

Title:  Assistant Professor, Division of Hematology & Hematologic Malignancies, Department of Internal Medicine

I am an Assistant Professor in the Division of Hematology and Hematologic Malignancies. I primarily treat patients with myeloid blood cancers. My research focuses on leukemia precursor conditions. Germline genetics strongly influence the risk of leukemia in some families. On the other hand, somatic mutations increase the risk of leukemia in older individuals with precursor conditions. Clonal hematopoiesis and clonal cytopenias are newly recognized myeloid leukemia precursor conditions. The mechanisms promoting leukemogenesis in individuals with clonal hematopoiesis are poorly understood. My translational projects aim to elucidate the roles of intestinal microbiome and chronic inflammation in fueling the progression to myeloid malignancies. Ultimately, I plan to develop preventative and therapeutic interventions to delay the progression to myeloid leukemia in at risk populations.

Email:  Afaf.Osman@hci.utah.edu

Anna L. Parks, MD

Title:  Assistant Professor, Division of Hematology & Hematologic Malignancies, Department of Internal Medicine

I am an Assistant Professor in the Division of Hematology & Hematologic Malignancies at the University of Utah and a faculty member of the Center on Aging. My clinical experiences caring for older adults with non-malignant hematologic disease led to the guiding the principle of my research: to apply aging research methods to understand the experience of older adults with non-malignant hematologic disorders and to use these insights to improve their care. Many older adults do not meet clinical trial inclusion criteria, clinical trials do not measure the outcomes that are most important to them, clinical guidelines base recommendations on chronologic age rather than function, and older adults have complexities that limit applicability of current evidence. To address these issues, I use the power of administrative data to examine outcomes in older adults with non-malignant hematologic disease, create measures that better reflect their experience, and incorporate information gleaned about the older adult patient experience into healthcare systems to improve outcomes.

Email:  Anna.Parks@hci.utah.edu

Chelsey R. Schlechter, PhD, MPH

Title:  Assistant Professor, Division of Health System Innovation & Research, Department of Population Health Sciences

I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences and the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah. My research aims to improve population health and health inequities through implementing evidence-based practices for chronic disease prevention and control in community and healthcare settings. Despite the development of evidence-based practices and programs to prevent and control chronic disease, there is a significant gap in the translation of this research into practice. Many research discoveries take over a decade to reach the populations they were intended to reach, and many more never become routine practice. I use principles of community-engaged research, implementation science, and behavioral science to develop and evaluate interventions to improve implementation of evidence-based practices, particularly among underserved populations (e.g., rural, low socioeconomic status, racial/ethnic minority). My research also focuses on understanding the multilevel level factors that influence implementation, and understanding the factors that influence individuals’ engagement in health promoting behaviors and evidence-based interventions.

Email:  Chelsey.Schlechter@hci.utah.edu

Nasser Sharareh, PhD, MSc

Title:  Research Assistant Professor, Division of Health System Innovation & Research, Department of Population Health Sciences

I am a Research Assistant Professor in the Division of Health System Innovation and Research within the Population Health Sciences Department. My research is focused on addressing health disparities and social determinants of health, specifically, food insecurity. Food insecurity is a leading cause of health disparities and a modifiable social determinant of health that has not been addressed yet. A major barrier in addressing food insecurity is that current measures of food insecurity lack granularity, consideration of access barriers (e.g., geographical, informational), and real-time data to inform timely interventions. I am investigating information seeking data captured by United Way’s 211 system to develop a real-time surveillance system to detect local hotspots of food insecurity. Through this research, I will be working with related stakeholders and will capitalize on my expertise in machine learning, geographic information system methods, and health services research to address food insecurity. While food insecurity is the core of my VPCAT program, on a side project, I use claims and demographic data and work with behavioral scientists and stakeholders to address opioid-related issues by informing community-level interventions.

Email:  nasser.sharareh@hsc.utah.edu

Elizabeth Siantz, PhD, MSW

Title:  Assistant Professor, College of Social Work

I am an Assistant Professor in the College of Social Work. My research focuses on the development and implementation of integrated behavioral health and primary care services and strengthening the roles of peer support specialists across a range of settings. This work is in response to the fact that persons with behavioral and mental health needs experience many years of life lost compared to the general population, largely due to poorly managed chronic care conditions and limited access to high quality medical care. This inequity is especially prominent in racial and ethnic minority populations. While there are existing evidence-based practices that address these inequities, organizations and health systems are challenged to adopt them. Thus, I use implementation science methodology to support clinical settings in translating such scientific knowledge into routine use. I am especially interested in using external practice facilitation to support the implementation of a peer-based chronic disease self-management programs in primary care settings for persons with mental illness.

Email:  e.siantz@utah.edu

Tammy K. Stump, PhD, MS

Title:  Instructor, Department of Dermatology

I am a social and health psychologist in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Utah. My research focuses on health promotion among populations with an elevated risk of cancer. Individuals with a known cancer risk often face the challenge of not only managing negative emotions but also engaging in multiple screening and preventive health behaviors to maintain health. Primarily, my research focuses on prevention of skin cancers, including melanoma, among at-risk individuals. In this area, I have developed and validated a novel self-report measure of sun protection and exposure, which can integrate with sensor-based measures of ultraviolet radiation and physical activity. I have used these measurement tools to evaluate sun exposure following genetic counseling for melanoma risk and to characterize the contexts of unprotected sun exposure among melanoma survivors and young adults with an elevated melanoma risk. I seek to apply these methods and findings to develop mobile health interventions that are guided by a nuanced understanding of the multiple factors that influence behavior, including the interplay among health behaviors (such as sun protection and outdoor physical activity).

Email:  Tammy.Stump@hci.utah.edu

Kristina I. Suorsa-Johnson, PhD

Title:  Assistant Professor, Division of Pediatric Psychiatry & Behavioral Health, Department of Pediatrics

I am an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at the University of Utah. My clinical and research interests focus on patients with differences of sex development; congenital conditions where chromosomal, gonadal, or anatomic sex development is atypical. Controversies exist about what constitutes best practices in differences of sex development healthcare, including a transition towards delaying urogenital and gonadal surgeries until patients can participate in decisions. However, there is limited research examining the decision-making process for adolescents and young adults with differences of sex development. Within this population, I am specifically interested in examining the impact of stigma on decision making. Insight into adolescents and young adults’ decision making will support the development of decision support tools, such as decision aids and educational interventions, to promote shared decision making.

Email:  kristina.suorsa-johnson@hsc.utah.edu

Echo L. Warner, PhD, MPH

Title:  Assistant Professor, Acute & Chronic Care, College of Nursing

I am a cancer health outcomes researcher with a special emphasis on adolescents and young adults who experience cancer as patients and/or care partners. Cancer experiences during adolescence and young adulthood are unique because most people to do not expect to be diagnosed with cancer, nor to take on the role of caring for an ill family member or friend with cancer at this age. While young adults are increasingly taking on caregiving roles for aging parents and grandparents, they are also some of the most advanced consumers of digital technology. I am especially interested in how the use of digital and social technologies influences cancer health outcomes during and after cancer experiences. I foresee many new and exciting discoveries in the future of cancer care as the fields of oncology, health communication, and machine learning/artificial intelligence collide. As a first generation college student from a rural community, I am passionate about designing and conducting research that is community-based and advances health equity for all regardless of race, gender identity, religion, education, geography, or class, and this is a common theme throughout my research.

Email:  Echo.Warner@hci.utah.edu