Zahnd receives 2021 New Faculty Research Award for rural cancer project

Published on December 7, 2021

Portrait of Whitney Zahnd of the Department of Health Management and Policy at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.

Whitney Zahnd, assistant professor of health management and policy, has been named the recipient of the 2021 College of Public Health New Faculty Research Award. This award was established by the college to assist newly appointed or junior faculty in collecting preliminary data or pilot studies leading to larger projects. The awards are based on scientific merit, including originality; relevance to the UI public health mission; and likelihood of subsequent extramural funding.

Zahnd’s research interests focus on rural disparities in health outcomes and health care utilization, particularly for cancer, as well as using spatial methods to examine access to care. The New Faculty Research Award will fund Zahnd’s project titled “Structural, Process, and Area-Level Characteristics Associated with Cancer Prevention and Screening Quality Metrics in Rural Federally Qualified Health Centers.”

Research shows that incidence and mortality rates for preventable and screenable cancers such as lung, colorectal, and cervical cancers are higher in rural populations compared to urban. These disparities can be reduced through cancer prevention and screening services delivered in primary care settings like rural health clinics (RHCs) and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs). Currently, FQHCs are required to report annual clinical quality metrics–including certain cancer prevention and screening services–to federal agencies, but RHCs are not. 

Zahnd’s study aims to identify what characteristics of rural FQHCs are associated with better quality metrics. The results, along with findings from a related study co-led by Zahnd, will provide critical preliminary data for a larger study. The goal of the future study would be to assess the capacity of RHCs to implement clinical quality measures, such as cancer screening, currently only required of FQHCs, with the goal of improving early cancer detection and outcomes in rural populations.