PECaD Faculty Member Highlight: Sarah Gehlert, PhD

Gehlert_SarahRural health is becoming a higher priority research topic in recent years, particularly around rural cancer diagnosis. PECaD faculty member Dr. Sarah Gehlert has been conducting research in rural Missouri to address cancer disparities in childhood cancer patients and how it affects the patient, family and physician. A major motive for conducting rural cancer research is to increase health knowledge in rural populations on cancer prevention to work towards eliminating cancer disparities. 

One of Dr. Gehlert’s more recent research initiatives focused on the barriers both patients and physicians encounter in rural Missouri. Dr. Gehlert, along with pediatric oncologist Dr. Emily Walling, interviewed parents whose children had been diagnosed with cancer. These families lived more than two hours outside the St. Louis area, making cancer treatment even more difficult.

From these qualitative interviews, Drs. Gehlert and Walling have been able to identify obstacles to care for these families and children. For example, some local providers are not comfortable treating children who have cancer when they contract a common childhood illness, such as the chickenpox. Financial burdens from traveling to and from St. Louis in addition to medical costs are oftentimes very hard for the family. These continuous trips can also be difficult for maintaining relationships in small communities, and affording self-care for family members and patients.

With some of the barriers identified, Dr. Gehlert continues to work on this project to problem solve and brainstorm solutions to help rural families continue to receive top quality medical care for their children without the financial and social burden. Her proposed resolutions also address ways in which physicians can help reduce burden on patients and their families, and overcome clinical hurdles they may feel exist.

Dr. Gehlert is heavily involved with PECaD as an advisory member, faculty advisor for the breast cancer community partnership, and advisor for post-doctoral candidates conducting research in cancer disparities. Her research at the Brown School at Washington University focuses on health disparities in cancer, especially social determinants of health. She also engages in community-based participatory research and transdisciplinary research to address women’s health and cancer disparities.