Research profile: Patty Carney, Ph.D.

What projects are you working on right now?

My portfolio of research continues to be split between cancer control and educational research. My current cancer control research is focused on improving HPV vaccination in rural Oregon, but I've done a lot of past research on a cervical, colorectal, and breast cancer screening, since completing my PhD in 1994. My educational research has many studies working with Eric Wiser, MD on Oregon Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) and with Erik Brodt, MD on several programs to support American Indians and Alaska Natives’ journey to medical school and beyond. I’m also the principal investigator for the length-of-training study in family medicine, which is funded by the American Board of Family Medicine Foundation.

What’s your background?

I've been at OHSU now for over 17 years, having come from Dartmouth Medical School in 2005 where I was assistant dean for research in medical education.

Interestingly enough, I started off as a bone marrow transplant nurse, and I got to see up close what happens to cancer patients. That led me to want to understand better what we could do to prevent cancer. So I got a master's degree in nursing as a nurse practitioner, but I only did that for a year until one of my colleagues talked me into getting a PhD. I went to the University of Washington and got a PhD in public health and community medicine with a focus on health services research.

While there, I took courses in educational psychology with a focus on measurement and psychometrics. I learned how to develop, design, and psychometrically test instruments. All these experiences helped things come together for me, because these two fields have some overlap – like some of my early mammography research, we studied how to improve continuing professional development of radiologists, so they would reduce unnecessary recall and improve their cancer detection rates. The intervention was an educational intervention that was funded by the National Cancer Institute, but when we wrote the grant, we characterized it as improving patient outcomes by intervening at the level of the interpreting physician.

What work are you most proud of at this point in your career?

I love everything I do, but I think the thing that warms my heart the most is mentoring medical students. Right now, I am working with nine students as their mentor for scholarly projects. One of my mentees is a 3rd year medical student who is doing this amazing project to understand how a clinic-based community garden could help reduce a clinician burnout while also educating patients in rural Oregon about the importance of good nutrition and growing your own vegetables.

I also get to be Nana Patty. One of the things I love to do when the students have babies is send them onesies with statistical equations showing the correlation between the parents. It's really nerdy, but fun.

What keeps you here at OHSU Family Medicine?

We've got great work going on in our department from prevention to early detection to managing the symptoms that primary care patients have when they're being treated for cancer. That's what I love about family medicine – that whole cradle-to-grave perspective. And the commitment to social justice and underserved populations is just amazing to me.

In my work in medical education, the residents say things like “I never know what's going to come through the door, but I know I can take care of 90% of it.” I think family medicine family docs have a huge aversion to boredom, and I totally get that.