On a campus hosting more than 28,000 students, UNC Charlotte welcomes around 2,000 international students each year. With students both domestic and international creating the bright and diverse student population at UNC Charlotte, one international health services research PhD student has stood out through outstanding academic and professional achievement.
Originally from Mumbai, India, Shweta Shah earned her BS in Homeopathic Medicine and Surgery from the University of Mumbai. She went on to receive her MS in Health Administration from the University of Houston at Clear Lake in 2012, and began the Health Services PhD program at UNC Charlotte in Fall 2012.
UNC Charlotte’s program turned out to be the perfect fit for Shah’s interdisciplinary research interests. She has been an outstanding student at UNC Charlotte with a focus on health economics and outcomes research. In this program, her research focused in on cancer, chronic disease and healthcare utilization.
“Health services research is exciting because there is a vast array of opportunities within the skills learned. You can go into academia, industry, consulting, government work, or many other fields,” said Shah. “HSR provides an opportunity to make an impact in these fields.”
According to Shah, a positive principal investigatoror or academic advisor plays a integral role in a student's development. Since 2014, Shah worked as a graduate research assistant with Dr. James Studnicki and Dr. Chris Blanchette.
Both mentors, however, earned the claim as her greatest influences at UNC Charlotte.
“Dr. Studnicki was always available to discuss research questions and methods-- he played a key role in guiding me during my studies,” said Shah. “Dr. Blanchette introduced me to the pharmaceutical/consulting side of health services research and prepared me for the industry.”
Officially becoming her advisor in Fall 2016, Dr. Blanchette would meet with Shah on a weekly basis. She describes how they would discuss research topics, analysis and interpretation of data, and concepts she needed to know as her dissertation work progressed.
“Dr. Blanchette encouraged me to present my research at conferences every year and publish papers,” said Shah. “If I had to describe him in two words, it would be: smart and kind.”
Dr. Blanchette is similarly effusive on Shah.
“Shweta is a driven individual who has sought out experiences that have enabled her to grow as a scientist and applied herself to the field of cancer health services research,” he said. “Each of these experiences has enabled her to broaden her knowledge base and strengthen her methodological knowledge.”
One of these experiences was a highly competitive internship Shah completed Summer 2016 at Genentech, a a biotechnology company in San Francisco. As one of the most prestigious industry internships in the country, Shah was alongside some of the brightest minds in the biopharmaceutical industry.
“I was assigned to the oncology therapeutic area, and used data from electronic medical records to look at metastatic breast cancer treatment patterns and survival. I not only applied what I had been learning in my program, but also gained insight into how the biopharma industry works,” she said.
Shah was granted numerous travel awards from the Graduate School and HSR program She presented her research at International Society of Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research (ISPOR) Annual and International Meetings, American College of Epidemiology Annual Meetings, and American Public Health Association Meetings.
For Shah, her most rewarding experience in the program was navigating the learning curve of developing key competencies in health services. As she worked with Dr. Blanchette, she found her passion in her research, a realization she describes as confirming and rewarding.
“Not everyone can find what they are passionate about while still in school,” said Shah. “I feel like I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m very excited to be part of oncology right now; there are always a lot of research needs and unanswered questions.”
Shah successfully defended her dissertation under the guidance of Dr. Blanchette in Februrary.
Her research focused on assessing survival, healthcare utilization, and costs associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) among elderly patients with non-small cell lung cancer.
“I found that the chronic bronchitis type of COPD led to the shortest survival time among lung cancer patients,” said Shah. “The findings seem to align with the recently hypothesized mechanisms associated with lung cancer risks among COPD patients.” The preliminary findings of her PhD were praised as novel and as the first study to assess the effects of chronic bronchitis on lung cancer survival.
Shah’s work also drew the attention of global biopharmaceutical companies and elevated the profile of UNC Charlotte’s health services research program. Before even defending her dissertation, Shah received a job offer from Amgen, a large biopharmaceutical company in Los Angeles, California. In line with her dissertation, internship, and research projects, she will explore new therapies to fight cancer.
“Out of all the different disease areas, I think oncology is very promising; there is great potential for markedly improving the lives of patients with cancer,” said Shah. “
To the students considering pursuing a PhD in health services reserach at UNC Charlotte, Shah’s advice is to stay focused and persistent, choose the right advisor, and understand the learning curve.
“Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the program, I think it’s the student’s responsibility to develop the core competencies essential for health services research,” said Shah. “The path is different for every student, but health services research is a great program leading to rewarding careers.”
Schweta Shah graduates with a PhD in Health Services Research in May 2017. She will receive the GASP scholar award, which is presented to doctoral students who maintained a GPA over 3.5 at the end of their coursework at UNC Charlotte.
by: Tayler Greene