A man sitting in a cushioned chair smiling at the camera.
Chris Gillette, PhD, Director of Research and Scholarship

As the Director of Research and Scholarship, Chris Gillette, PhD, has helped propel original research production, publication, and presentation by faculty members throughout the Department of PA Studies, all while maintaining his own scholarly activity.

In the last year, Gillette’s research received an especially strong endorsement as he secured more than $1.3 million in funding, including $426,000 from the Donaghue Foundation and $445,000 from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The NIMHD grant brings the additional distinction of making Gillette the first PA faculty member in the U.S. to serve as the Principal Investigator on an NIH R-series grant. This new role not only marks a personal milestone for Gillette, but also signifies an important step forward for PA faculty in health care research nationwide.

“It underscores the recognition of PAs as experts capable of improving health care access and services,” Gillette said.

Understanding Health Care in Underserved Communities

The Donaghue Foundation grant will enable Gillette and other researchers, including Wake PA professor and project co-investigator Robert Wooten, MS, PA-C, to learn more about the prostate cancer screening experiences and preferences of Native American men from the Lumbee Tribe in North Carolina.

Prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer among Native American men, and they suffer the worst outcomes of any other racial or ethnic group in the United States, likely because decreased access to care results in later diagnoses.

This study aims to better understand the perspectives of both patients and health care providers and to determine how cultural differences may affect prostate cancer screening decisions. After gathering the needed information and insights, the research team will work with the Lumbee tribe to co-develop an implementation plan to ensure that screening practices align with Lumbee men’s preferences.

The NIMHD-funded research aims to uncover actionable strategies that the federal government can implement to attract health care professionals to rural areas, where they are desperately needed. Sara Garvick MS, MPAS, PA-C, associate program director for the Wake PA Boone Campus, is serving as co-investigator on the project. The research team will develop and disseminate a discrete choice experiment to identify future policies and incentives that can increase physician, PA, and Nurse Practitioner recruitment to rural Appalachia.

While the Donaghue and NIMHD grants focus on distinct topics, they both reflect Gillette’s commitment to help underserved communities.

“I’m from Appalachia, from a rural part of North Carolina,” said Gillette. “There is a shortage of physicians in these areas, decreased access to care, and some of the poorest outcomes in the country.”

Observing the difficulties in rural communities growing up and later as a professional serving poor areas of West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, Gillette felt compelled to pursue a career with a meaningful impact and seek creative ways to improve health care in underserved areas.

By focusing on the health care needs of rural and minority populations, Gillette’s work supports the Department of PA Studies’ emphasis on health equity and social determinants of health.

“This research fits in really well with the department and its current focus on health equity,” Gillette said. “It shows that we're leaders in that in this area among departments nationally.”

Expanding Impact Through Collaboration

Gillette is balancing the Donaghue and NIMHD-funded research with several other funded projects. He and Sarah Garvick received a grant worth nearly $50,000 from the PA Education Association (PAEA) to conduct a best-to-worst scaling experiment to identify the most and least important attributes that patients look for when choosing a primary care provider. Gillette and Wake PA professor Coco Perry, PharmD, are also co-investigators on a $100,000 grant from the National Institute on Aging to study inappropriate medication use and its potential risks for mild cognitive impartment.

Gillette is also serving as site Principal Investigator for two projects that have received significant support from the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization.

PCORI awarded a $13.9 million grant, of which Wake Forest will receive more than $300,000, to find ways to prevent fragility fractures in osteoporosis. The NIH also awarded the International Agency for Research on Cancer $2.9 million to create a research consortium to determine whether prescription opioid medications are associated with new cancer diagnoses.  With Gillette as site Principal Investigator, Wake Forest will receive about $466,00 of this funding.

"In 2023, the Department of PA Studies had its most successful year ever for extramural grant funding in terms of dollar amount and number of grants funded,” Gillette said. “I think that’s a strong indicator of even bigger things to come and I’m excited to see the impact our new Doctor of Medical Science (DMSc) program has on research by PA faculty.”