Sarah Parker’s career has encompassed multiple research positions and funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, but she ranks working with students near the top of her experiences.

It’s not surprising that students have named Parker, who is an associate professor and chair of Health Systems and Implementation Science at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VTCSOM), the school’s 2023 Research Mentor of the Year.

“There’s an extraordinary caliber of researchers that our medical students get to interact with,” said Parker, who is also a research associate professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC. “To have been selected by students is a terrific honor for me because getting to work with students is one of my favorite things about my job.”

VTCSOM is one of only a few medical schools in the country that incorporates a mandatory rigorous, multiyear research project in its curriculum as one of its key value domains. Fourth-year students present their comprehensive projects either by oral or poster presentations at an annual Medical Student Research Symposium. Parker will receive the award at this year’s symposium, which will be from noon-5 p.m. March 24.

Parker has more than 15 years of experience applying human factors and industrial and organizational psychology principles to health care. The medical student projects she mentors are diverse, exploring how to optimize human performance across many different domains of health care.

Students in the lab work on a variety of projects, including topics focusing on optimizing care in the inpatient setting as well as testing different ways to engage with patients and community members in the outpatient setting.


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In the inpatient setting, topics such as implementation of a new sepsis best practice alert and protocol is explored to determine if there is a resulting behavior change. In the outpatient setting, the team looks at different issues for individuals with substance use disorder and how to better support them and caregivers as these individuals receive medical treatment. The team partners regularly with faculty from Virginia Tech, VTCSOM, the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, and Carilion Clinic clinicians and with resources such as Carilion Clinic’s Center for Simulation, Research, and Patient Safety  

In one of her own latest research endeavors, Parker is heading up a team of faculty representing a wide array of disciplines at Virginia Tech and VTCSOM that will study the integration of technology in the health care setting.

“We are particularly curious about ways we can better integrate technology to improve patient care and provider well-being,” said Parker. The project is one of four being funded by the university’s New Destination Area 2.0 grants.

Parker said she allows her students to be drivers of their own research but helps them frame their projects and develop a good research question.

“The foundation of what I hope they walk away with is integrity, curiosity, critical inquiry, and communication,” she said. “That’s what you want in your future physicians.”

In the past eight years, Parker has mentored or co-mentored 22 students, 14 of whom were medical students.

“Dr. Parker has integrated both medical and graduate students into her outstanding simulation and patient safety research,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, Virginia Tech vice president for health sciences and technology, and senior dean for research for the VTCSOM. “Her research expertise in these areas is contributing to helping to close the translational gap between laboratory research and patient care.  She is extremely deserving of this recognition from the medical students”

Among the student comments on Parker’s nomination form was: “Dr. Parker has taught me how to turn curiosity into an evidence-based question and then transform that question into a hypothesis that is tested by a well-designed project.”

Another comment: “Dr. Parker displays empathy and understanding while ensuring that research standards are met. She takes the time to check in with us individually, and make sure that we are all on the same page.”

“I take it quite seriously when VTCSOM says it wants to graduate lifelong learners. Our students have the opportunity to do really good work with world-class researchers, and that’s foundational in terms of advancing both basic and translational science,” Parker said.

Parker earned her bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, her master’s degree from George Mason, and her Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen. She and her husband, Michael, are parents of three children.


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