EDI Spotlight: Sarah Wilson, PhD


Sarah Wilson, PhD, always had an interest in fighting for justice and fairness. Starting as early as high school, she has long since worked to address inequities experienced by people in various communities. That drive still exists today in her role as an assistant professor in psychiatry & behavioral sciences at Duke. In this month’s Spotlight, Wilson tells us about several programs she’s working on, including a new intervention to mitigate racial implicit bias in clinicians and a research project focused on health equity and access to health care for minoritized veteran populations. She also gives us a glimpse into her world outside of Duke, which includes performing as a Prince impersonator.

What is your current position within the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences? What does a typical day for you look like?

I am an assistant professor in psychiatry & behavioral sciences with a secondary appointment in Population Health Sciences. I also hold a joint VA appointment at Durham VA Health Care System. On a typical day, I spend some time meeting with research project staff. I also have frequent meetings with mentees. In my interactions with team members, colleagues, and mentees, I strive for respect and power-sharing in my communication style. We engage in collaborative problem-solving as much as possible. 

You are involved in several research projects that focus on improving inequities in populations who experience systemic discrimination. Tell us about some of those projects, including your work with U.S. military veterans.

My current projects span across a few different populations and health concerns. I currently work with Dr. Laura Svetkey and a fantastic team of Duke EDI leaders on a project focusing on implicit racial bias in health care. This project was originally funded through the Center for REACH Equity. I co-lead the project with Dr. Svetkey. In that project, we have focused on initial development and pilot testing of an intervention designed to mitigate implicit bias among clinicians. This project is unique in its focus on clinicians rather than trainees. After our initial pilot with a generous group of clinicians from across the School of Medicine, we have been working on streamlining the intervention and transferring learning from live sessions to a combination of asynchronous e-learning and individual coaching meetings. We are very excited about the direction of this work and are thrilled to welcome Dr. Crystal Tyson to our team this fall. 

I am also very excited to have funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to work together with the Latino Commission on AIDS to address access to pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV (PrEP) for Latinx community members living in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Together with the LCOA Latinos in the South Program, we've been using implementation science and a health equity lens to work with Charlotte-area clinics to improve access to PrEP for Latinx communities.

I am grateful to be working on another NIAID-funded, community-driven project focusing on implementing interventions for HIV stigma reduction in Black faith communities. I co-lead this project with community leader and HIV advocate Eugenia Rogers, with significant support from community leader Jimmy Gibbs.

I additionally lead a research team at the Durham VA Health Care System focusing on health equity and access to health care for minoritized veteran populations. That team is excited to be in start-up currently for a 12-facility implementation trial of an intervention called LGBTQ-Affirmative Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. That study will test a package of equity-focused implementation strategies to determine the extent to which focusing on institutional health equity can improve uptake of equity-focused interventions.

What inspired you to get involved in health equity work? How long have you been doing this kind of work? 

I have always had a keen interest in justice and fairness. When I went to high school here in Durham, I worked to raise awareness around racial inequities in the death penalty in North Carolina, as well as civilian casualties during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. During college, as I focused on psychology, I became aware of inequities in exposure to traumatic stress and access to health care. My dissertation focused on psychological symptoms and well-being among women presenting for repair of obstetric fistula in Tanzania. Obstetric fistula risk is inextricably linked to poverty, gender inequality, and access to health care, so these were integral considerations for that global health work. As a postdoctoral fellow, I made the decision to focus on health inequity here in the U.S. I've been so grateful for excellent mentorship and peer collaboration, which has made my work in health equity possible.

You currently oversee a national Delphi Panel of experts that focuses on identifying implementation strategies for health equity. What is the purpose of this panel and how will it help improve inequities in health care?

Yes, the Implementation Strategies for Health Equity Delphi Panel was funded through a supplement to the Center for REACH Equity. We convened a group of over 35 experts in health equity and implementation science to develop consensus around implementation strategies to promote health equity in health care systems and in community settings. We have completed two full rounds of the Delphi panel and are gearing up for our third and final round. The Delphi panel has collaboratively identified 33 strategies to promote health equity to date, and are working on a few additional strategies to add to our compendium. We are excited to share these findings in the coming months more formally!

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of work?

I have a wonderful family who I spend a lot of time with outside of work. We love to get outdoors and also spend time in the local community. My biggest hobby is actually performing as a Prince impersonator. I recently had an amazing time performing as Prince at Weird Productions' Prints 4 Prince art show, as well as performing at a Prince dance party at local LGBTQ+ venue The Pinhook. My favorite Prince song to perform is "Diamonds and Pearls," which I recently had the privilege of performing at a friend's wedding