Faculty Focus: Heather Schacht Reisinger, PhD

Date: Tuesday, January 9, 2018

What is your hometown?

Omaha NE, is where I graduated from high school, but was born in Columbus, OH and lived in 5 places before I was in 3rd grade.

How/when did you become interested in science and/or medicine?

I first became interested in anthropology when I was a high school freshman; my biology teacher also taught anthropology. I’ve pursued anthropology ever since. I didn’t start doing health services research until I got to Iowa and I really got interested in implementation science—how to get the latest research into practice—so that’s how I moved into medicine. I did drug abuse research for 10 years before coming to Iowa.

When did you join the University of Iowa faculty?

I’ve worked at VA since 2006 but didn’t join the faculty until 2011 – I first worked as staff in the research center.

How or why did you choose to join the faculty at the University of Iowa?

To build qualitative research and implementation science in the College of Medicine, to have more flexibility regarding agencies I can submit grants to, and to become more integrated in the educational mission in a more purposeful way. I started facilitating small groups of medical students and discovered that I really enjoyed learning from the students.

Is there a teacher or mentor who helped shape your career?

Two anthropologists, one at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, Lori Stanley, and my mentor, Mike Agar. He was one of the first anthropologists to work in the field of drug abuse. He was very cutting edge, using ethnography, which is the method of anthropology, outside the discipline. He was also an amazing ethnographer.  

How do you see your faculty role impacting medicine and/or science?

I feel lucky because qualitative research has just exploded in medicine and clinical and health services research. People are very interested in patient perspectives of medical interventions, as well as healthcare workers’ perspectives. I’ve been lucky to be part of that wave. The VA is doing a lot of this but now it’s growing outside the VA. If you end up with null findings, as long as you’re doing qualitative research as well, you’re going to learn something because you’re getting feedback from patients and healthcare workers on intervention so you may have a better understanding of why it didn’t work.

What is the biggest change you've experienced in your field since you were a student?

Qualitative research has become in high demand and I happened to be doing it at the right time.

What one piece of advice would you give to today's students?

Be open to possibilities because the trends that are going on today won’t be the same in 20 years so be open to what might come next.

In what ways are you engaged in professional activities outside the University (i.e. population based research, mentoring high school students, sharing your leadership/ expertise with organizations or causes, speaking engagement off campus, etc.)? 

I serve on the board of the Society for Applied Anthropology. This is an international society interested in using anthropology to create change. I serve on the planning committee for the annual Women’s Faculty Development Conference that cuts across many of the colleges on campus. I guest lecture at my alma mater, Luther College, quite frequently.

What are some of your outside interests? I own and am fixing up a cabin approximately 45 minutes northeast of Decorah near the Effigy Mounds National Monument. I am a deer hunter and enjoy going back to Nebraska where my dad, grandfather, and uncles used to hunt. I teach Sunday school and serve on our church council. And I spend a lot of time running my kids around!

Anthropology is just the way I think; it’s the perfect match.