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Faculty Focus: Mary Vaughan-Sarrazin, PhD

Date: Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Mary Vaughan-Sarrazin, PhDWhat is your hometown?

Iowa City, Iowa

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

I spent the first few years after completing my master’s degree doing marketing research in the Chicago area. I ended up working for a healthcare system, analyzing billing and other data for cost containment and utilization management efforts. That was my introduction to healthcare data. After that I enrolled in a PhD program in health services research here at Iowa.

When did you join the University of Iowa faculty?

I became faculty in 2010, although I was affiliated with the University long before that. 

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

I’m a life-long Hawkeye. I remember the excitement of Hawkeye football Saturdays as a young girl; watching the Homecoming parade from the top of the Phillips Hall; seeing my parents decked out in black and gold for various Hawkeye sports events. I know this sounds corny, but the Hawkeye fight song fills my heart. I also still have a lot of family in the area, which is very important to me. Other than that, I think that the reputations of University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics and College of Medicine are truly impressive. What has been accomplished here, in the middle of what was once acres of farmland, is truly amazing.  

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

I’d have to list two: My dad, who was faculty in the College of Business, was passionate about education.  He encouraged my siblings and me to go into academia from a young age. His motto was “pass it on”, which helps me remember the importance of passing on my skills and knowledge through education and mentoring. 

The second mentor is Dr. Gary Rosenthal. Gary hired me through the VA in 1999, shortly after he arrived at UI as Director of General Medicine. Before Gary, I think I had the right ‘ingredients’ for a research career, but I had no idea how to assemble the ingredients into a successful package. That’s what Gary taught me. 

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

I mentor several physicians just starting out in their research careers. I see myself as more of a ‘background’ person as they move their careers forward; I hope I am enabling other researchers to understand how to use data to conduct ground-breaking research. My own interest is cardiovascular disease, so that’s where I spend a lot of my efforts.  

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

Definitely data technologies. The ability to capture data from nearly every interaction has changed science.   

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

Don’t be afraid of failure --- in fact, count on it. Every failure or setback has a silver lining, which is that you get to learn something new. 

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 spend a lot of time at the Iowa City VAMC (CADRE research center), where I advise on data and statistical methods for a variety of projects. I have also been on a study section for AHRQ grants for the past 4 years. 

What are some of your outside (personal) interests?

My husband and I have a cabin in northern Minnesota. We built most of it ourselves; it’s been a multi-year labor of love. I also recently started taking cooking classes. I’ve never been one to spend a lot of time in the kitchen but am discovering that I love it. Other than that, we’re pretty involved in raising teenagers and young adults, including our own and a few that we ‘unofficially adopted’. We have three daughters plus one ‘adoptive’ daughter who came to us 9 years ago as an exchange student from Ghana. My husband is also an active mentor to a few local young men who don’t have fathers. It’s a wonderfully rewarding (albeit sometimes frustrating) experience. 

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