Advance-K Scholar Spotlight: Portia Cornell, PhD

Portia Cornell, PhD, has been awarded a VA Health Services Research & Development (HSR&D) Career Development Award (CDA-2) from Veterans Affairs

Congratulations, Dr. Cornell!  Portrait of Dr. Portia Cornell smiling outside

Portia Cornell, PhD, Assistant Professor of Health Services, Policy and Practice at the School of Public Health at Brown University, and Health Research Specialist at the Center of Innovation for Long-Term Services and Supports at the Providence Veterans Administration Medical Center, was part of cohort two of the Advance-K Scholar Career Development Program. This year-long program sponsored by the Brown Division of Biology and Medicine and Advance RI-CTR offers training to highly qualified junior investigators with the goal of submitting a successful NIH K or equivalent proposal by the conclusion of the program.

The Study: "Improving Care Transitions for Veterans with Social Needs"

While working at the Providence VA, Dr. Cornell noticed that though there were robust systems in place to collect social risk data on veterans, it was time consuming to locate that data and build a full picture at-a-glance. Her study proposes to address this issue in order to facilitate information sharing with clinicians to improve health outcomes. In the short term, Dr. Cornell’s study focuses on leveraging data from Veterans Affairs (VA) electronic health records to identify and organize social risk factors affecting veterans into social risk domains in order to provide clinicians with a comprehensive overview of the social adversities a veteran has faced.

The long term goal of the study is the development of a clinical tool that not only summarizes social risk domains but also assigns a numeric score to the patient, based on a modeling approach. This score would serve as a valuable quantitative measure of a veteran’s social risk, which is closely tied to their medical risk. Dr. Cornell emphasized that the ultimate goal is to create a dashboard prototype, and then pilot test the dashboard. Clinicians would use the dashboard to more quickly identify veterans at risk and tailor interventions accordingly, thereby improving the efficacy of care coordination and leading to better health outcomes.

“ There are so many official requirements and unwritten rules in writing a career development application that as junior faculty we have to figure out. Being in [the] Advance-K [Scholar Program] was like a “cheat code” to understanding how to comply with these tacit expectations. ”

Keys to Success

Dr. Cornell’s mentors: Jim Rudolph, MD, Director of the Center of Innovation in Long Term Services and Supports at the Providence VA, and Professor of Medicine and Health Services Policy & Practice at Brown University; Kali Thomas, PhD, former faculty at Brown and current Associate Director of Health Services Research, Center for Equity on Aging at Johns Hopkins University; and Cari Levy, MD, PhD, Core Investigator, Physician, at the Denver VA, played a crucial role in developing the successful study proposal.

Dr. Cornell is in the process of transitioning to a senior research fellow position at the University of Melbourne’s Center for the Digital Transformation of Healthcare. She credits her CDA preparation and the Advance-K Scholar program for paving the way to this exciting opportunity, noting the Advance-K Scholar Program’s role in supporting scholars, particularly those from diverse backgrounds, and leveling the playing field by explaining tacit expectations in the application process.