May 31, 2023 | Erin Bluvas, firstname.lastname@example.org
Yi-Wen Shih may have been preparing for a career as a physician when she was a student at China Medical University, but she was developing a passion for public health at the same time. Throughout most of her five years in the Doctor of Medicine program, she provided medical services to rural communities and disadvantaged populations with chronic conditions across Taiwan.
“These services emphasized improving their health conditions and further promoting preventive care, hoping to enhance their health care outcomes,” Shih says of this volunteer work. “I have always placed a strong emphasis on helping others, and the intersection of the medical and public health fields perfectly aligns with my goal because it affords me the opportunity to better understand the many influences on people’s health and propose more holistic, targeted solutions to help people at both the population and individual levels.”
With this growing interest, Shih completed a Master of Public Health at the same time as she wrapped up her medical degree. Her program-related experiences as a medical clerk and intern confirmed the observations she made through her volunteer work. They also helped her recognize the impact of health policy and health equity on various populations in hospital and outpatient settings.
“This experience provided me with firsthand knowledge of the barriers to quality health care that individuals face, as well as how public health, especially promoting preventive care through influencing health policy, contributes to society more effectively at the population level than at the individual level,” she says.
Shih decided to shift her focus from being a medical provider to becoming a health services researcher and enrolled in the Arnold School’s Ph.D. in Health Services Policy and Management (HSPM) program. Here, the Norman J. Arnold Doctoral Fellow has worked with HSPM assistant professor and Rural and Minority Health Research Center deputy director Peiyin Hung and other Arnold School faculty to study social determinants of health and health care equity with a focus on mental health, maternity care and perinatal health outcomes.
“I feel truly grateful and incredibly fortunate to have the support of many mentors from the Arnold School, who come from various departments,” Shih says of Hung and other mentors, including Jan Ostermann, Brian Chen, Jihong Liu and Xiaoming Li.
Her own research examines mental health, health disparities and substance use (particularly opioids). Shih advocates for nonpharmacologic treatment (e.g., acupuncture) for adults with chronic noncancer pain to improve health outcomes/pain management and mitigate the opioid crisis. Her dissertation project, which was supported by a SPARC grant from the Office of the Vice President for Research, explored this topic with the goal of influencing policy on opioid use and insurance coverage.
Shih’s work has been recognized with multiple awards. She is the recipient of the Public Health Fellowship, Outstanding International Graduate Student Award (twice), Student Poster Award at the 14th James E. Clyburn Equity Lecture, and Alice S. Hersh Student Scholarship from AcademyHealth, the leading organization for health services and health policy research in the United States.
“Yiwen’s career trajectory demonstrates dedication and experience that positions her for a promising career in health services research and policy,” Hung says. “Her scientific research on opioid epidemics and nonpharmacologic treatment may aid in developing health care strategies for the prevention of opioid use disorder in the United States and beyond.”
After graduating in August, Shih will complete a Steven M. Teutsch Prevention Effectiveness Fellowship with the Division of Overdose Prevention, Health Systems and Research Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During the two-year program, she will continue building her quantitative research skills to aid in developing health care strategies to prevent opioid use disorders.
“My long-term career goal is to bridge real-world clinical needs and academic research by performing advanced quantitative research, translating research findings into potential health care interventions, and influencing health services policy for adults with chronic pain,” she says.
The Ph.D. in Health Services Policy and Management at the University of South Carolina prepares graduates to conduct health services research among universities, public or private research institutes or government agencies and teach at the university level.
The Rural and Minority Health Research Center at the University of South Carolina focuses on investigating persistent inequities in health status within rural and minority populations in the United States, with an emphasis on inequities stemming from socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, access to healthcare services, and other macro level factors.