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Faculty Focus: Patrick Barlow, PhD

Date: Wednesday, February 7, 2018

What is your hometown?

Maple Grove, MN

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

My father is a meteorologist, so I grew up loving science, tinkering, and finding out new ways to do things. My current research interests come from a serendipitous series of events and opportunities starting back in my 12th grade psychology class when I was asked to help my teacher with an assessment project she was trying to do. In college, I discovered that areas like assessment and program evaluation were, in fact, fields of research when I spent two years teaching faculty members how to assess their courses, interventions, etc. as part of a faculty development grant from the Teagle Foundation. After undergrad, I went directly into a PhD program in Program Evaluation, Statistics, & Measurement where I was given a last-second graduate assistant position at the University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine (Knoxville, TN).

A year later, two other students and I were left to direct the combined medical education and biostatistical consulting office when a faculty member left abruptly without a replacement. Finally, it was in this role that all my interests in assessment, statistics, and evaluation was married with my longtime fascination with the world of medicine – I was hooked.

When did you join the University of Iowa faculty?

September of 2014, right after Labor Day.

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

I have a longtime connection to the University of Iowa. I was a gymnast for a long time growing up, and used to compete in the Field House for the annual Iowa Boys Invitational Meet. Showing the picture of me with a platinum blond bowl cut and no front teeth made for a great addition to my presentation during the interview process.

History aside, the most important reason was that the job posting for the position was, almost to the word, what I had described as my ideal career when writing my comprehensive exam portfolio just a year or two earlier. I got to practice and research my areas of expertise in the environment that is constantly presenting new and fascinating challenges.

Finally, it was important for me to come back to the Midwest where I could be close to family and friends back in Minnesota.

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

There are too many to count, but I would say three individuals have been the most influential.

First, Dr. Phil Kramer was the individual who hired me to work on the Teagle Foundation grant. Without him, I would not have known the career I now have was even possible let alone make it into graduate school and out the other side. I have no idea where I would have ended up had it not been for his inspiration and guidance.

In a different way, few people have done more to shape my understanding of the world more than my friend and English Literature mentor from Saint John’s University, Dr. Steve Thomas. As a literary critical theorist, Steve helped me understand the complex social, cultural, and political issues that factor into every aspect of our lives. As an evaluator, having the ability to recognize these issues is an invaluable asset.

Finally, my continued interest in medical education and successful completion of my PhD training could not have been possible without Dr. Gary Skolits. As my dissertation chair, Gary always advocated for me throughout my training. He taught me how to deal with the politics of program evaluation and educational leadership, had my back when I insisted on pursuing an interest in medical education, and helped me overcome very skeptical faculty members when I insisted on using a method for my dissertation that was not taught at our university, let alone in our program.

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

Program Evaluation is inherently interdisciplinary and largely content-agnostic, which means my role here is intensely diverse. At any given time, I am working on projects in a half-a-dozen different content areas, which is the most exciting part of my job. The primary way I impact both medicine and science is by helping other researchers to be successful. Nearly all large external funding opportunities require some plan to evaluate and monitor the project’s success whether the funder is the NIH, CDC, DOD, or private foundations. By developing and implementing these plans, I contribute to new research and discoveries by helping investigators get (and maintain) the external funding to conduct it. As a medical education researcher, I work to contribute new and more accurate ways in which educators and programs measure their student’s and program’s success.

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

I am still pretty close to being a student, but I would say that the emergence of data visualization and “big data” in general has been one of the most rapidly growing areas I have been seeing in evaluation. Similarly, the intersection of evaluation and informatics has been something I’ve noticed as well.

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

Never stop trying to be better at whatever you choose to do, and never stop learning new things. There’s a quote by Oscar Wilde I like to use that says, “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.”

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.)?

Being fairly new to the area, my focus is mostly on activities that relate to the university in some way; however, I do work with non-profits, family, and colleagues from time to time on various evaluation projects.

What are some of your outside (personal) interests?

I love to be outside as much as possible. Hiking, climbing, gardening, or even just getting lost in the woods for an afternoon are extremely therapeutic for me. I also have always loved taking things apart, building, tinkering, and fixing, so it is a safe bet that I’m off working on some new project whenever I’m not at the hospital. My primary outlet for that passion is through woodworking, but I dabble in everything from electronics and coding to plumbing and mechanics – and everything in-between.