Research profile: Heather Angier, PhD, MPH

Assistant Professor of Family Medicine and Co-Director of the BRIDGE-C2 Center 

What are you working on? 

I have three main buckets of work: 

  • Family health and the impact of parents’ health and health care on their children's, 

  • The impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on patients with low-income seen in Community Health Centers (CHCs), and 

  • Improving implementation science methodology and reducing gaps in cancer preventive services for patients with low-income (the work I do through the BRIDGE-C2 Center

I am also passionate about research compliance and human subjects protection. As a member of the Institutional Review Board (IRB), I help ensure that those who participate in research understand what it is and what it means. We make sure research studies at OHSU are ethical and fair and not harmful.  

Learning about past research harms – and even things that happen currently – has made me interested in human subjects’ rights. Everyone thinks they’re going to do the right thing, but there’s a lot of evidence across history that people haven’t, so it’s important to have protections in place. This work is really fun and rewarding. 

How did you get into this line of work? 

I studied psychology in undergrad with the intention of going into social work. I found I couldn’t separate myself from the difficulties people experienced when working directly with them in the social work field, but I still wanted to have an impact on people’s health. 

I got my first research job on a smoking cessation study at the University of Buffalo, then came to the OHSU cancer institute (now the Knight). I was interested in public health, so I got my MPH at Portland State University. 

I worked at the Oregon Rural Practice-based Research Network (ORPRN) and the Oregon Clinical and Translational Research Institute (OCTRI). I was looking for ways to improve preventive care in larger populations, and that’s how I ended up in Family Medicine, because it encompasses so many preventive services for so many people. I got my PhD while working here and joined the faculty.  

Once I found it, research just made sense for my brain. 

What drew you to OHSU Family Medicine? 

I was really drawn here by (chair) Jen DeVoe, (former chair) John Saultz, and the original founders of the department and their commitment to patients, their radical thinking, and progressive and innovative ways to improve health, especially for those who need it most. It always excites me hearing about the amazing work colleagues are doing, being on the forefront of new thinking about how to care for patients in an inclusive and sustainable way. 

Can you share a success story? 

After the ACA was launched there was a lot of talk of dismantling it. But we produced a lot of positive evaluation – our research was used in national reports and contributed to the mounting evidence that the ACA is good for people – and it wasn’t dismantled. I can’t say our research saved the ACA but all that evidence certainly made it harder to undo it. 

What do you hope to see happen in your field in the next 5-10 years? 

I hope we can become more equal in our health as a society. Family Medicine has a big role to play in that. A lot of the work we do is using OCHIN data, which is all about CHCs and individuals with low-income. We get feedback from peer reviewers that the low-income population is not generalizable, that research should be for the majority. But the health of one group impacts the health of everyone else – we should care about those we are leaving behind.  

There are a lot more people talking about health equity now. It’s not new, but it seems more people are learning about it for the first time. It's becoming more of a conversation on a national level, and more people are thinking about it. It gives me hope we can actually change things.