Faculty Spotlight: Teaching continues to drive public health economist

If you ask Zhuo “Adam” Chen what he loves about being a faculty member at the University of Georgia, he will say, “everything.”

And he means it. In his short time at UGA, Chen has embodied the tripartite mission of the university.

As a public health economist, Chen is at home teaching courses on economic evaluation, advanced health policy and, more recently, health care management as an associate professor of health policy and management in UGA’s College of Public Health.

Teaching was one of the main drivers that brought Chen to UGA after a career working first in academia and then as a senior service fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I love teaching, and in academia, you can have a broader research portfolio and more flexibility to collaborate with other disciplines and applications,” he said.

Chen’s research uses analytical methods to analyze health care systems and social determinants of health and health disparities. These concepts often serve as the foundation for many of his courses, and he has many examples from his research to illustrate the impact of disparities on health.

Recently, he’s been energized by the influence some of the health care management courses he’s teaching for the college’s undergraduate and Doctor of Public Health program have had on the direction of his research.

As Chen interacted more with individuals working in health care administration and management, mostly as guest speakers for his classes, he started to realize that this was an area he wanted to explore through a health disparities lens.

“One project we’re working on is on the gender pay gap among hospital administrators in the U.S. since the Affordable Care Act. It’s enlarged. Women administrators earned about 33% less than men,” said Chen.

But the data also showed that women make up a greater proportion of health care leadership now than they did in 2009. Chen is now working on several theories to better understand the dynamics of this change—all of which he’s excited to bring back to his students and colleagues at the college.

Several mentors helped to shape Chen into the professor and researcher he is today, and he wants to carry that forward into his roles at the College of Public Health.

Chen remembers that his late doctoral dissertation adviser, Dr. Wallace (Wally) E. Huffman at Iowa State University, took special care of Chen’s academic and professional growth. Chen has a vivid mental image of the first dissertation draft he received back from Huffman with suggested edits.

“As a non-native English speaker, let’s say my grammar was not the best at the time. Wally had nice and encouraging comments on the whole, but also pages of the drafts were blanketed in red edits. He had many funded projects and was prolific in published research each year. But he had taken the time to help and care for growing students. He is someone who had a lot of influence on me, and that’s something I want to pass on to the younger generation,” said Chen.

Chen credits his mentors at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with introducing him to the power of interdisciplinary collaboration and nudging him toward work in public health. And, Chen continues to seek out new avenues to exchange ideas across disciplines, institutions, sectors and even nations.

As president of the Chinese Economists Society from 2017 to 2018, Chen worked to help bridge relationships between Chinese economists based in the U.S. and facilitate an exchange of economics and policy research between China and the U.S. He does similar work with another U.S.-based organization, the China Health Policy & Management Society, serving in multiple roles.

At UGA, Chen leads the Interdisciplinary Approaches to Social Determinants of Health Research, part of the Teaming for Interdisciplinary Research Pre-Seed Program supported by the Office of Research and Office of the Provost. Within the College of Public Health, Chen is serving as co-chair to a newly formed interdepartmental research working group focused on health disparities.

If there is an opportunity to share ideas and knowledge, Chen is ready to take the ball and run with it, further enhancing the experiences of those around him.

Read on UGA Today.

– Lauren Bagget

Posted on September 13, 2021.