UROP Mentor

Nikhil Parekh, MD, MPH



UROP Research Team

  • Sophie Branham
  • Alexandra Clugh
  • Ongkon Deb
  • Rei Hemmer
  • Ashley McKaig
  • Ana Pislaru
  • Emily Shah
  • Henry Shaver
  • Grace Suter
  • Hillary Tran
  • Ellia Vanderwerff

What is your research project?

Whole Health Educational Resource Development and Evaluation for Veterans and VA Staff

What are the goals of your research project?

The project will start with an educational phase where the student learns about the Whole Health system. The research mentor will share specific resources available on the VA intranet and also will share handouts and textbooks with the student. The second phase will involve the student learning about current educational resources relating to Whole Health for specific populations (resources available for veterans, resources for families, etc.). During this phase the student may have an interest in using software and graphic design principles to create new educational resources. That interest will be supported by the mentor. The third phase will be development of a survey (with guidance from the mentor and time allotted for revisions). The survey will be given to veterans, family of veterans, volunteers and staff in the VA and other healthcare systems, and community members with an interest in holistic healthcare and the care of veterans. The aim of this phase will be to understand awareness and utilization of elements of the Whole Health System by these individuals. Finally, the student will work closely with the research mentor to learn data collection and data analysis (quantitative and qualitative) principles. The mentor will help the student understand the results in a manner that allows the student to be comfortable with designing the Symposium poster and presenting the findings at the Symposium. At all times, if a student has a particular interest (or has an any of interest relevant directly to his or her student experience), modifications can be made to the initial plan. Of note also, as Whole Health clinical services develop more robustly at the hospital, we will also introduce the student to pre- and post- clinical intervention (rather than solely educational) evaluations. These evaluations will be in areas such as changes in pain control or pain levels after use of Whole Health clinical services (such as massage therapy) and effectiveness of Whole Health services (such as yoga) in the management of mental health conditions such as PTSD or anxiety or depression.

Why is this research important?

Whole Health is a system of care the focuses on Veteran and staff well-being in the VA Healthcare System. Per Congressional legislation, eight areas of care (including areas such as yoga, tai chi, acupuncture, mediation, energy medicine, and massage therapy) are now part of the medical benefits package for veterans. This means that any veteran can ask for those areas to be considered as part of his or her routine care. Other areas of focus in the Whole Health System are diet and nutrition, physical fitness, health coaching, SMART goal setting and behavioral change, peer Veteran-to-Veteran mentorship, the Personal Health Inventory (understanding "what matters most" to the Veteran), the Circle of Whole Health and self-care and community-based care. For staff Whole Health, a significant focus is wellness and burnout prevention.

What drives you to conduct this research?

I am passionate about providing comprehensive healthcare, but doing so at a level that focuses on the patient and not the provider. Many of the focus areas of the Whole Health system have had a beneficial impact on the health of myself and my loved ones and also on patients that I have worked with prior to my time with the VA. I believe the VA has a tremendously innovative approach in implementing this system of care but I also believe that the patient voice and patient input is vitally important for sustaining and improving that system of care and that is where this research is of benefit.

Is there a Call to Action you would like to encourage?

I would like to generally acknowledge that self-care is an important aspect of the Whole Health system and during the pandemic many health care providers have struggled tremendously at a psychosocial level and burnout is at epidemic levels. There are many organizations that support health care workers, and I encourage audience members to support those of us who are doing our best to support patients during the pandemic through any of these organizations of their choosing.

What resources would you recommend to learn more about your research topic?

My UROP students are learning skills on how to answer questions related to this research. Many of my UROP students from past years and from this current cohort would be happy to discuss this research with you. If you contact the UROP Office we can coordinate that discussion session.