VA-based health services research fellowship accepting applications

Dr. Mengeling (top) and Dr. Mosher

Just two years ago, Michelle Mengeling, PhD, and Michael Ohl, MD, MSPH, brought a fellowship sponsored by the VA’s Office of Academic Affiliations (OAA) to the Iowa City VA Health System. Fewer than two dozen VA Health Systems offer the OAA Advanced Fellowship in Health Services Research and Development (HSR&D) in the country. Hilary Mosher, MD, has since replaced Ohl to co-direct the fellowship with Mengeling.

The postdoctoral training program is open to physicians, nurses, pharmacists, clinical psychologists, or PhD scientists in fields relevant to health care research and who are U.S. citizens. Fellows have opportunities to collaborate on numerous funded projects and are initially integrated with ongoing research efforts. This provides fellows with a foundation before building their independent research careers. Fellows benefit from experienced mentors, extensive resources, and access to experiential learning while conducting embedded research in the national VA healthcare system.

Mengeling said that fellows have formal primary faculty mentors, but “there are also many opportunities for strong informal mentoring relationships.” Added together, this support helps fellows build a network of mentors and colleagues throughout the VA, UI Health Care, and professional organizations that lasts beyond the fellowship.

The curriculum provides fellows with a variety of interprofessional learning environments and educational resources. Mengeling said that the formal instruction is aligned with Learning Health System (LHS) Core Competencies. There are eight LHS competency domains, she said,

  • system science
  • research questions and evidence standards
  • methods
  • informatics
  • ethics and implementation in health systems
  • improvement and implementation science
  • engagement, leadership, and research management, and
  • health equity and justice.

“Because of Iowa’s rural setting and our rural research focus,” she said, “this fellowship has an additional focus area in rural healthcare delivery systems and policy for those who are interested.”

Alessandra Pratt

One of the current fellows at Iowa, Alessandra Pratt, PhD, was finishing her doctorate from the College of Public Health when she saw the OAA fellowship was going to be offered here. “I was excited,” she said, “for the prospect of learning a new type of research—health services research—in the largest integrated health care system in the United States.”

She is currently working on two projects, the first with Mengeling is focused on maternal mental health, looking at risk factors that can contribute to perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. The second, with Katherine Hadlandsmyth, PhD, and Brian Lund, PharmD, MS, is examining prescribing trends for people with chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. “I am lucky to work with two PIs on this project,” Pratt said. She has also begun to make contacts with OAA fellows at other institutions and is exploring opportunities for collaboration.

“I hope to stay a VA researcher,” Pratt said and hopes that she can build toward a Career Development Award in HSR&D. “I also hope to one day be a professor and help teach the next generation of researchers.”

Mengeling notes that the program considers applications for MD candidates at any time. The traditional start of the fellowship is late summer or early fall, but this varies based on individuals’ timelines. Anyone interested in learning more or applying can contact Mengeling, Mosher, or email

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