Our Community

Students in the Health Policy Ph.D. Program at Vanderbilt have dedicated one-on-one access to their mentors. Mentors will be assigned based on research interests and all primary faculty members are currently accepting new students. They also work closely with their mentor's lab teams, comprised of other faculty, staff, and students. In addition, there is collaboration with institutes and centers associated with the department including the Institute for Medicine and Public Health, the Center for Child Health Policy, LGBT Policy Lab, Emerging Infections Program, among others.

Our PhD students also have the opportunity to take advantage of all Vanderbilt has to offer, including a robust alumni network, exciting events and seminars, career development and networking services, and numerous affinity groups and student associations.

Current Students 

emma achola

Emma Achola

Admitted Year: 2021

Research Interests: Payment reform, Access to care, Healthcare costs, Health equity, Healthcare Delivery  

Emma Achola is a PhD student in the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University. Prior to attending Vanderbilt, she spent four years

working in federal health policy in Washington, D.C. First, she spent two years working as a research assistant at the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC). While at MedPAC, she worked on issues related to low-value care and coverage policy in the Medicare program, long-term care hospitals, and accountable care organizations. She then worked for two years at the American Medical Group Association, where she focused on regulatory issues surrounding physician payment policies.

She is interested in studying payment reform efforts in the Medicare program, and how these efforts align incentives for providers to deliver higher quality more efficient healthcare. She is also interested in how these efforts impact vulnerable populations’ health outcomes, access to care, and overall affordability of healthcare services. Emma received her BA from Duke University.

Curriculum Vitae

Primary Advisors: Melinda Buntin, PhD, and Laura Keohane, PhD


khrysta baig

Khrysta Baig

Admitted Year: 2020

Research Interests: Value of Care & Medications, Incentive Alignment, Value-Based Design, Short- & Long-Term Affordability, Medicare, Employer-Sponsored Insurance (ESI), Pharmacy Benefits Managers (PBM), Cardiometabolic Health

Khrysta Baig is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University. Her research interests include policy and payment mechanisms for improving the value of care – especially in the Medicare program and for ESI plans. Her work currently looks at these topics through the lenses of obesity and diabetes.

Baig was previously the director over a self-funded government ESI health plan – managing over $30 million in spending – where she used contractual efficiencies, incentive alignment, and data transparency to preserve rich benefits while producing substantial savings for taxpayers and plan members. She has served in various leadership roles for non-profit and government entities focused on health care value and affordability, PBMs and value-based formulary management, and employee health and wellbeing. Baig holds a Master of Science in Public Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (‘14), where she also trained as a registered dietitian. Collective, she has over a decade of experience working on issues related to public health and health insurance, and she has first-author publications in the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Reach Khrysta:

Google Scholar Profile

Primary Advisor: Melinda Buntin, PhD and Stacie Dusetzina, PhD


Robert Besaw

Robert Besaw

Admitted Year: 2021

Research Interests: Pharmaceutical policy, access to care, cancer outcomes research, financial toxicity of cancer care, vulnerable populations

Rob Besaw is a first-year doctoral student in the Department of Health Policy. His research interests focus on how health policies influence the uptake and

costs of medicines. He is particularly interested in how the financial toxicity of cancer treatments and medicines affect vulnerable populations and their families.  

Rob received a BA in Health Studies & Anthropology from Michigan State University before obtaining an MPH from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. After Emory, Rob first spent time in Washington DC working on streamlining processes to develop and increase access to HIV and liver fibrosis therapies. He then moved to Boston where he conducted cancer epidemiology and outcomes research before finally transitioning to manage a complex portfolio of cancer clinical trials.

Curriculum Vitae

Primary Advisor: Stacie Dusetzina, PhD


Hannah Crook

Hannah Crook

Admitted Year: 2021

Research Interests: Health care payment reform, value-based payment, social determinants of health, rural health, state and local health policy.

Hannah Crook is a first-year PhD student in Health Policy at Vanderbilt

University. She is interested in researching new ways of paying for health care that encourage high-value care, lower costs, and better patient outcomes. She is also interested in how value-based payment programs can address social determinants of health.

Hannah received a Bachelors of Science in Public Health with a major in Health Policy and Management from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Previously, she was a research assistant at Duke University’s Margolis Center for Health Policy, using mixed methods research to study health care payment and delivery reform. In her free time, she enjoys reading, crafts, and being outdoors.

Primary Advisors: Melinda Buntin, PhD, and John Graves, PhD


sharon fernandez

Sharon Fernandez

Admitted Year: 2023

Research Interests: Access to care, quality of care, health equity 

Sharon is an MD/PhD student at Vanderbilt. She was previously a research consultant for the Lewin Group in Washington, D.C., where her projects included state Medicaid waiver updates and an evaluation of a Medicare value-based payment model. She also supported efforts to provide emergency funding and support to states and territories amid the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically focusing on home- and community-based services for older adults and people with disabilities.

Through her combined degree, Sharon hopes to provide care to underserved patients while conducting public health research that will help improve access to and quality of care for all patients.

Sharon serves as co-director of Shade Tree Clinic, Vanderbilt’s free clinic, in 2023-24. She received her B.A. in leadership & public policy with a minor in biomedical ethics from the University of Virginia. She enjoys exploring the outdoors, playing the cello, singing with the medical school a cappella group, and hosting game nights with friends.

Primary Advisors:


Emmaline Keesee

Emmaline Keesee

Admitted Year: 2023

Research Interests: Long-term care, aging, rural health, health economics 

Emmaline is a PhD candidate in the Department of Health Policy. Before coming to Vanderbilt, she earned an MSPH in Health Policy at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill.

While at UNC, she worked for the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research on several projects related to rural hospital financial stability. She also participated in research on unpaid caregiving in North Carolina and a community project aimed at supporting those aging independently in Chatham County. Emmaline is primarily interested in studying financial and workforce barriers to long-term care access, particularly within the context of rural and under-resourced communities.

Previously, she earned a BS in Health Sciences with a concentration in Public Health from the College of William and Mary. Immediately following, she completed an AmeriCorps service term in rural Eastern Montana, working with a county coalition on community-based efforts to reduce substance use and improve mental wellbeing.

In her spare-time she likes to draw, try new food spots, read, show everyone pictures of her cat, and be outdoors.

Primary Advisors: Laura Keohane, PhD and David Stevenson, PhD


Ahra Kim

Ahra Kim

Admitted Year: 2022

Research Interests: health disparities and determinants of health, access to care, infectious disease policy, marginalized populations, rural health  

Before starting the PhD program, Ahra was a senior biostatistician in the Department of Biostatistics at VUMC

where she worked for five years. She primarily collaborated on infectious diseases projects, working with international databases to evaluate health outcomes of people living with HIV as well as examining transmission patterns of COVID-19 and influenza in TN with the Vanderbilt Coronavirus Study and the CDC. She has also worked on various research projects with the Department of Psychiatry. Ahra has been a co-author in journals such as the Lancet HIV, Clinical Infectious Diseases, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, and Pain Medicine. Ahra is interested in evaluating the effects of policy and guidelines on population health outcomes to reduce disparities especially for minority groups.    

Ahra received an MPH with a concentration in Biostatistics from Loma Linda University. Prior to that, she received a BA from the University of California Los Angeles. Ahra loves to play tennis and spend time outdoors with her dog. She also enjoys cooking and baking when time permits.

Google Scholar Profile

Primary Advisors: Ashley Leech, PhD, and Andrew Wiese, PhD


kun woo raphael kim

Kun-Woo Rafael Kim

Admitted Year: 2022

Research Interests: cost-effectiveness analysis, decision science, population health  

Kun-Woo Rafael Kim is a doctoral student in the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University.

His primary interest is in applying decision science to health policy decision-making. Before joining Vanderbilt University, he worked as a research trainee at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, investigating the cost-effectiveness of non-pharmacological interventions for the dementia population. As a summer graduate fellow, he trained in cost-effectiveness analysis methodologies at the Center for Evaluation of Value and Risk in Health (CEVR) of Tufts Medical Center.

Kun-Woo received a Bachelor of Science degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and a Master of Public Health degree with a Comparative Effectiveness Outcomes Research certificate from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

Kun-Woo likes to take a walk, read poetry, and practice Kendo, a Japanese/Korean fencing, in his free time.

Primary Advisors: Ashley Leech, PhD and Jinyi Zhu, PhD


Dennis Lee

Dennis Lee

Admitted Year: 2020

Research Interests: Healthcare access, costs and delivery, health system quality, vulnerable populations 
Before coming to Vanderbilt, Dennis had collaborated on a variety of research

projects at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. First, he joined the HQSS Commission, which culminated in a comprehensive report on healthcare system quality in 134 low- and middle-income countries. Afterwards, he conducted research at the department of Health Policy and Management, primarily working on  comparing costs, outcomes and quality for Medicaid and heavily-subsidized private health insurance for low-income individuals and buprenorphine policy to tackle the opioid crisis. A unifying theme in Dennis’s work is the use of rigorous research to shed light on healthcare systems and policy on vulnerable populations.

Dennis graduated with a degree in Economics and Statistics from UC Berkeley in 2016 and has since conducted analyses using methods found in epidemiology, biostatistics, econometrics, and machine learning. He has also published in journals such as The Lancet Global Health, Health Affairs, BMJ Open and Health Services Research. For fun (and pre-COVID), Dennis is a martial artist, having competed on UC Berkeley’s Taekwondo sparring team, and training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Primary Advisor: John Graves, PhD


Nana Addo Padi-Adjirackor

Nana Addo Padi-Adjirackor

Admitted Year: 2021

Research Interests: Health Economics, Health Informatics, Digital Health, Health Equity, Quality of Care, and Implementation Sciences

Nana Addo Padi-Adjirackor is a doctoral student in the Department of Health

Policy at Vanderbilt University. His interests lie at the intersection of health services research, biomedical informatics, and health information technology. Before pursuing his doctoral studies, Nana Addo worked as a Senior Project Manager with Viamo in Ghana on the Design and Implementation team. He collaborated with international organizations such as UNICEF, USAID, and the World Bank on designing mobile curriculums to train community health workers in rural Mozambique and developing mobile surveys to determine the Coronavirus impact on the education system in Malawi. He also previously worked at the Atlanta VA Medical Center as an Infectious Disease Epidemiologist.

Nana Addo received a Bachelor of Science in Public Health from Temple University and a Master of Public Health degree in Health Policy from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. He is a die-hard Sade fan and loves to cook. On the weekends, you will find him making abstract expressionist paintings or at the local bakeshops sampling sweet delicacies.

Primary Advisor: Kevin Griffith, PhD and Jessica Ancker, PhD


jason sell

Jason Sell

Admitted Year: 2022

Research Interests: Mental Health Policy, Substance Use Disorder Treatment, Medications for Opioid Use Disorder, Medicaid, Incarcerated Population Health

Jason Sell is doctoral student in the Department of Health Policy. His research interests focus on how state and federal health policy decisions impact the administration

of mental health services and substance use disorder treatments within communities. He is particularly interested in how Medicaid coverage decisions impact individuals receiving medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD). More broadly, Jason is interested in how mental health policies can better serve vulnerable and marginalized populations, such as those involved in the criminal justice system.

Jason received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Emory University and subsequently received a Master of Letters in Management from the University of St Andrews in Scotland. Prior to attending Vanderbilt, he spent multiple years as a data analyst at the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS). While at ODMHSAS, Jason served as the lead evaluator of Oklahoma’s Zero Suicide initiative and conducted analysis of a residential and outpatient substance use treatment program for pregnant and postpartum women in Oklahoma.

Primary Advisor: Carrie Fry, PhD


robbie skinner

Robbie Skinner

Admitted Year: 2022

Research Interests: Long-term care; aging; regulatory oversight; healthcare costs; health economics  

Robbie Skinner is a PhD student in Health Policy at Vanderbilt University. Prior to coming to Vanderbilt,

Robbie spent four years at Insight Policy Research (Insight) in Arlington, Virginia. While at Insight, Robbie analyzed certification and survey data for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, assessing state efforts towards meeting regulatory requirements. He also studied the social determinants of health among aging populations, among other projects. At Vanderbilt, Robbie is interested in the economics of long-term care, particularly how regulatory oversight and consumer choice in the nursing home market affects health outcomes.

In 2018, Robbie received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Kennesaw State University. While at Kennesaw State, Robbie worked with a variety of local government agencies and small nonprofits, such as county aging services in assessing quality of life for senior citizens. He has published work in the Journal of Comparative Effectiveness Research.

Google Scholar Profile

Curriculum Vitae

Primary Advisor: David Stevenson, PhD

nathaniel tran

Nathaniel Tran

Admitted Year: 2020

Research Interests: LGBTQ+ health, health equity, population health, aging. 

Nathaniel Tran (they/he) is a PhD candidate in the Department of Health Policy and graduate research associate with the Vanderbilt LGBTQ+ Policy Lab.

Their research examines the role of health and social policies in advancing LGBTQ+ health equity. They use a variety of data (e.g. electronic health records, national surveys, and one-on-one interviews) to understand how our laws, policies, and cultural norms impact population health. Their dissertation research exams the role of provider, state, and federal policy on sexual and gender minority aging outcomes such as age-appropriate cancer screening and dementia risk.

Their previous experiences include research at Harvard Medical School/Cambridge Health Alliance, research as a Fulbright Fellow at the University of Buenos Aires, and community outreach at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. They hold a bachelor's degree in Gender Studies and Spanish from Tufts University.

Research Website

Curriculum Vitae

Primary Advisor: Gilbert Gonzales, PhD


tatum watson

Tatum Watson

Admitted Year: 2023

Research Interests: Access to care, health equity, social determinants of health, cost-effectiveness analysis, and quality of care.  

Tatum Watson is a PhD student in the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University. Prior to attending Vanderbilt,

she spent the past four years working in nonprofits, higher education, and community and county health departments to address social determinants of health, Medicaid churn, and access to quality care. She primarily worked in rural and Hispanic communities across Southern Arizona and Colorado.

Tatum received a BA in Public Service - Nonprofit Management and a Master of Public Administration in Public Policy from the University of Colorado Denver. Her research interests focus on evaluating how health policies encourage equitable high-value care and reduce social disparities. In her free time, Tatum enjoys reading, playing intramural sports, spending time with her dog, and traveling.

Primary Advisor: Carrie Fry, PhD, and John Graves, PhD

Diversity & Inclusion

There is strength in our diversity. Our program is committed to creating a community of inclusion and support both academically and socially. Below are some of the resources available at Vanderbilt. 

Office of Equity, Diversity and InclusionUniversity Counseling Center
Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural CenterCenter for Student Wellbeing
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex LifeRobert Penn Warren Center
Margaret Cuninggim Women's Center Graduate School Career Development
International Student & Scholar ServicesBRET Office of Career Development
Initiative for Maximizing Student DiversityGraduate Student Council
Organization of Black Graduate and Professional StudentsVanderbilt Chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science