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Arnold School of Public Health

SmartState Center for Healthcare Quality successfully preps postdocs for careers in academia

October 11, 2019 | Erin Bluvas,

Four years in, the South Carolina SmartState Center for Healthcare Quality (CHQ) continues to raise the bar on its various training efforts for students, particularly its postdoctoral fellows program. Since 2015, eight postdoctoral fellows have become faculty members at academic institutions in South Carolina and beyond.

“One of our goals at CHQ is to prepare the next generation of the public health workforce,” says Xiaoming Li, director and Endowed Chair of Clinical Translational Research for CHQ and a professor in the Arnold School’s Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior. “We have several training programs to prepare students at various stages during their education, and the success of our postdoctoral fellows reflects the high quality of the students and their achievements through these programs.”

CHQ, which aims to improve the safety, effectiveness, and affordability of healthcare in South Carolina, includes nearly 40 individuals (i.e., core faculty/staff, faculty associates, consultants, postdoctoral fellows, doctoral students, undergraduate research assistants, and Junior Scholars). Their collaborations are further extended by alumni and international networks of close to 30 more contributors. 

“The CHQ under professor Li’s leadership is now a leading contributor of public health workforce talent to the U.S. and indeed the world,” says Arnold School Dean Thomas Chandler. “The CHQ postdoctoral fellows contribute substantially and unselfishly to the training and preparation of more junior master’s and doctoral students across the Arnold School, which is an invaluable asset to us in these times of less and less state support for graduate education training.”

With this diverse and collaborative training ground as a backdrop, CHQ’s postdoctoral fellows have thrived. The Center has evolved into an academic incubator of sorts – a space where its members and partners can work together creatively to solve the challenges of healthcare delivery and disease prevention in a variety of contexts using a range of interdisciplinary approaches.

A sociological perspective

One of the postdoctoral fellows, Michelle Deming, brought psychology and sociology perspectives to her position at CHQ. She had recently completed a Ph.D. in sociology, with a focus on dispelling false ideologies that blame victims for their sexual violence (i.e., rape myths), at UofSC when she joined the Center.

“The overlap with public health is clear given the negative health outcomes associated with gender-based violence,” Deming says of her decision to pursue the fellowship. “I was particularly intrigued by the Center’s focus on stigma against people living with HIV especially in South Carolina. The intersection of sexual violence and HIV transmission is a major global public health concern.”

Deming recently wrapped up her two-year postdoctoral fellowship and joined Baker University this fall as an assistant professor of sociology. With her diverse background in public health, sociology, social justice, and women’s and gender studies, Deming will be able to teach and conduct research in a variety of areas using an intersectional framework to address social and public health issues.

A big data approach

A physician by training, Rifat Haider joined CHQ after completing a Ph.D. in the Arnold School’s Department of Health Services Policy and Management (HSPM) where he contributed to a variety of research projects (e.g., cancer screening/costs, opioid prescription drug use, waterpipe tobacco smoking, health disparities). Haider worked closely with HSPM chair Mahmud Khan and received funding from the World Health Organization to support his dissertation research on the economic burden of tuberculosis and an economic evaluation of control programs in his native Bangladesh.  

Haider’s interest in quantitative research led him to connect with Li and HSPM associate professor Bankole Olatosi who had received a National Institutes of Health grant to research HIV/AIDS in South Carolina using big data. He became their “big data postdoc,” mastering machine learning techniques for predictive modeling.

After a year at CHQ, this fall Haider joined Ohio University as an assistant professor in the Department of Social and Public Health. “I spent six formative years at UofSC – first as a doctoral student and then as a postdoctoral fellow,” Haider says. “I will always fondly cherish my experience at the Arnold School, and this will be a source of inspiration for me forever.”

A health psychology background

Guangyu Zhou’s doctoral program in health psychology from Freie Universität Berlin focused on behavior change, such as diet, exercise and illness prevention. However, through the course of his studies, he encountered many people who had been diagnosed with stigmatizing illnesses such as HIV hepatitis B virus (HBV), and mental health conditions.

“Several of my friends have suffered with chronic hepatitis B infection and found it difficult to tell their status to their intimate partners, and we know that disclosure pressure greatly impacts mental and physical health,” Zhou says. “After researching the issue, I realized that the psychosocial mechanisms underlying the effects of HIV and HBV on health outcomes might be the same.”

While researching postdoctoral positions that would allow him to work with these populations, he read papers published by Li on HIV stigma and disclosure and thus found his way to CHQ. At the Center, Zhou learned how to conduct a field study, write manuscripts, apply for grants and manage projects.

In 2018, he returned to China where he grew up – this time to Beijing – and began a position at Peking University as an assistant professor in the School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences. Zhou also appreciated the mentorship provided by Li, expressing admiration for the director’s work ethic, leadership and collaborative approach.

The other postdoctoral fellows agree with this assessment and point to other influential CHQ mentors as well. “Dr. Xiaoming Li and Dr. Sayward Harrison [who was CHQ’s first postdoctoral fellow herself in 2016] have been instrumental in my successful completion of a postdoctoral fellowship at CHQ,” says Deming, who completed several publications and receiving funding from the UofSC Office of the Vice President for Research during her tenure at the Center.  

“I received invaluable working experience under the tutelage of Drs. Li and Olatosi,” Haider says. “Their supervision helped me to be an accomplished researcher and prepared me to embark on my independent research career. I was also fortunate to work in a big and eclectic group of researchers at CHQ, and I plan to keep collaborating with them in my future research endeavors.”

Former CHQ Postdoctoral Fellows 

Yeon Jung Yu Assistant Professor, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA
Sayward Harrison Assistant Professor, UofSC
Yao Zhang Assistant Professor, Nankai University, China
Guangyu Zhou Assistant Professor, Peking University, China
Amir Bhochhibhoya Assistant Professor- Lander University, Greenwood, SC
Rifat Haider Assistant Professor- Ohio University,  Athens, OH
Joi Anderson Assistant Professor, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, SC
Michelle Deming Assistant Professor, Baker University, Baldwin City, KS


SmartState Center for Healthcare Quality prepares trainees for careers in research and teaching

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