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Student Biographies

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 Rachel Butler, MHA, MPH

Research Interests: Medical decision making at the end-of-life; organization, management, and utilization of end-of-life care services; patient-provider communication; and health policy communication.

Biographical Statement: Butler is a doctoral student in Health Services Research and Policy in the Department of Health Policy and Management, under the advisement of Dr. Nicholas Castle. She currently works for Dr. Amber Barnato at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine, Section of Decision Sciences, where she manages projects focused on end-of-life decision making, including the development of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University Joint Program on Medical Decision Making in Life-threatening Illness. Butler grew up in Indiana, where she obtained Master of Health Administration and Master of Public Health degrees from the IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health and worked as a research assistant for Dr. Susan Hickman at the Indiana University School of Nursing.



Research Interests: Health care quality improvement, health disparities, mental health and substance abuse services research, pharmaceutical policy research, quality of care, politics of health policy

Biographical Statement: Gopalan is a PhD candidate in health services research and policy at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health Department of Health Policy and Management. Gopalan graduated from the H.J. Heinz School of Public Policy and Management with a master’s of science in health care policy and management. Her research interests are health care utilization, quality, outcomes and communication during transitions in care. In addition to pursuing her PhD, she has been working in the quality and performance improvement department of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside since 2003.


Research Interests: Decision sciences, medical decision-making, simulation modeling, operations research, cost-effectiveness analysis, health economics

Biographical Statement: Kabiri is a PhD student working under the supervision of Mark Roberts. She received her master’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Pittsburgh, and joined the Department of Health Policy and Management in 2013. Her main research interests are clinical decision-making, simulation modeling and operations research, with a focus on addressing health policy questions for hepatitis C and HIV. She also cooperates with the Public Health Dynamics Laboratory in the Framework for Reconstructing Epidemiological Dynamics (FRED) project in the MIDAS National Center of Excellence.


Research Interests: Health economics, dental public health, cost-effectiveness analysis and decision making in dentistry, health care in the Middle East and North Africa region with a special focus on the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

Biographical Statement: Khouja is a PhD student in health services research and policy at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health Department of Health Policy and Management. She received her masters degree in public health, in December 2013 through the Multidisciplinary Master’s of Public Health program, Pitt Public Health. She also obtained a certificate in health system leadership and management. Prior to coming to Pittsburgh, Khouja worked as a dentist and a demonstrator in the department of dental public health, Faculty of Dentistry, King AbdulAziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, who are sponsoring her post graduate studies.

Cassandra Leighton, MPH

Research Interests: New models of care delivery, interprofessional practice, healthcare organizations and systems, provider networks and access, quality improvement, and health economics.

Biographical Statement: Leighton is a Graduate Student Researcher with the Health Policy Institute and a doctoral student in Health Services Research and Policy at the University of Pittsburgh.  Her current interests revolve around increasing healthcare access and quality through innovative and efficient care team design, care delivery models, and effective economic incentives.  Under the guidance of her advisor, Everette James, MBA, JD, Cassandra is currently working on a variety of projects involving: interprofessional practice models within the UPMC system; Medicaid home- and community-based provider networks; accountable care organizations; and telehealth programs and interventions.   Prior to her time with the Health Policy Institute, Cassandra provided workforce retraining education to support population health initiatives across the United States at a subsidiary of a regional BlueCross plan.  


Research Interests: Health economics and outcomes research (HE&OR) including patient reported outcomes, retrospective claims data analyses, economic modeling, and systematic literature reviews.

Biographical Statement: Lobo’s research work spans a variety of areas including development of patient-reported outcomes, economic modeling and retrospective data analysis. For her master’s thesis, she studied the relationship between invalidation of fibromyalgia pain by medical professionals and health outcomes of quality of life and pain. She is also interested in studying the impact of other emotional and psychosocial factors on health outcomes in individuals with chronic pain. Her past work has also looked at the utilization of complementary and alternative medicine in fibromyalgia. During her training as a doctoral student in the department as well as her experience with various industry internships, she has participated in projects involving economic modeling and demonstrating economic impact of disease management. For her doctoral thesis, She is conducting a retrospective data analysis that investigates health outcomes in adults affected by the overlap of chronic pain, mental health and opioid misuse. For her updated information, please refer to her LinkedIn profile.


Research Interests: Health policy, pharmacoeconomics, medical device and pharmaceutical regulatory strategy, health care quality improvement, and health disparities

Biographical Statement: Scolieri is a PhD student in health services research and policy at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health Department of Health Policy and Management. Prior to beginning the PhD program, she received her masters of health law from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and worked as a consultant for Bayer Healthcare’s Procurement and Operations department. This work sparked her interest in medical device and pharmaceutical regulatory strategies as well as pharmacoeconomics. In addition to pursuing her PhD, she is also working towards completing her certificate in Medical Product Innovation from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering and is also a member of the United States Marine Corps Reserves.


Research Interests: Quality of care, medical decision making, clinical/patient decision support, patient education, patient-provider communication, patient experiences of treatment side effects and coping with chronic conditions, qualitative research methods.

Biographical Statement: Shaw recently defended her doctoral dissertation, in which she used quantitative and qualitative methods to study decision making about medications in rheumatoid arthritis. Her advisor is Mark Roberts. She has worked as a research assistant for the Division of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology, for Julie Donohue on a project using Pennsylvania claims data to investigate the role of physician networks in the adoption of new prescription drugs, and for Howard Degenholtz on a study of organ donor recruitment.

Before entering the field of public policy and health services research, Shaw studied and taught literature. She has a BA in literature from Yale University and an MPhil in English Literary Studies from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where she taught literary analysis, creative writing, and film narrative. She returned to the U.S. to study at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, where she received her master's degree in public policy. Her interest in health services research and medical decision making developed during her experiences researching cost-effectiveness analyses at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and helping to implement a decision aid for elderly diabetic patients at the University of Chicago.


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