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Congratulations to the first Stanford Health Policy PhD students to win awards

Yiqun Chen and Tess Ryckman are the first students in the Stanford Health Policy PhD program to win research grants. Their projects could improve health outcomes in the United States and in the developing world.

“Awards like these are a recognition of the quality of our very young PhD program,” said Corinna Haberland, director of education for the PhD program that launched in 2015.

A member of the first class of doctoral candidates and currently in her second year, Chen received a seed grant from the Center on the Demography and Economics of Health and Aging (CDEHA). Funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), CDEHA studies how best to modify health care systems to adapt to aging populations.

Chen will study the Hospital Readmission Reduction Program. A component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the program encourages hospitals to keep readmission rates low, but the financial incentives do not extend to doctors. Chen will evaluate the program’s effectiveness for Medicare patients.

“Yiqun is well positioned to offer new insights into the ways that the organization of physicians and hospitals will influence quality improvement programs,” said Laurence Baker, chair of the Department of Health Research and Policy and the grant’s primary investigator.

Still in her first year of the PhD program, Ryckman managed to snag a coveted fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Their Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) supports outstanding graduate students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

She plans to study nutrition in developing countries, focusing on the cost-effectiveness of programs that address stunting as compared to wasting. Two important public health indicators, stunting measures short height for age and wasting measures low weight for height.

“Wasting is more likely to result in death, but in a lot of countries the prevalence of wasting isn’t actually that high,” said Ryckman. “I suspect that in some cases they’re sacrificing funding that could go for stunting because wasting is more visible.”

The fellowship will allow Ryckman to focus on the research that inspires her. Instead of working as a TA or research assistant, she can pursue her own project while still drawing on faculty expertise.

“All of the faculty are really supportive,” she said. “They’re a helpful sounding board and give good advice.”