PHII welcomes new Project Manager to Practice Support
As PHII continues to grow, the Practice Support unit is pleased to welcome Sara Sanford, MA, on board as Project Manager. In this role, Sara will help guide the development, evaluation and execution of PHII projects. She brings over six years of experience to this position.
Sara’s interest in public health developed gradually. At first, she pursued a combined master’s/doctoral degree in psychology/neuroscience and animal behavior at Emory University. She worked with birds in the field and in the lab to study how changes to the animals’ environments and hormone levels affected their behavior. After she completed her master’s degree, Sara noticed her interests shifting away from lab work and academia. “I wanted to find a new way to apply science and bring it into the community a little bit more,” she says. “I wanted to talk to people outside of university life and get them engaged in science.”
An opportunity arrived when Sara was hired as a clinical research coordinator at Emory University School of Medicine with Dr. Igho Ofotokun. Her responsibilities included recruiting participants and managing study visits for a clinical trial involving an experimental treatment designed to reduce bone loss associated with HIV and HIV treatment regimens. The study population consisted of people who had never had any HIV treatment before, so most of the prospective participants Sara spoke with had just received their diagnoses. The human relationships she formed with them, and the information she imparted to them, empowered them to make informed choices about their treatment plans. As she spoke with participants before, during and after the clinical trial, Sara saw transformation in the participants’ health and well-being as they learned how to manage the disease and how they were contributing to the future of HIV treatment.
“If people have access to information, they have the tools to better manage their lives.”
- Sara Sanford
For Sara, helping people make informed decisions about their own lives is a great aspect of working in public health. “Public health is giving people more knowledge, more information and improved access to information for doctors and their patients. If people have the knowledge, they can make better choices. If people have access to information, they have the tools to better manage their lives.”
Sara took on other roles alongside Dr. Ofotokun when the trial concluded, eventually becoming the manager of research projects and then the associate director of research projects. Most recently she managed the Women’s Interagency HIV study, a longitudinal project exploring the effects of HIV and aging on women. The project encompassed multiple site locations and substudies. Sara oversaw the diverse array of initiatives, managed the variety of perspectives involved and kept the day-to-day operations running.
Then, after more than six years on HIV research, Sara was ready for new experiences with public health informatics. “I didn’t know anything about informatics when I applied,” she admits, “but I had a pretty good grasp of project management from my research perspective, and I wanted to be part of a field that was new and growing.” Her experience working with patient health information and a love of learning helped her settle into her new role.
When Sara isn’t working on public health projects, she enjoys hiking and playing with her two dogs, Ava and Lulu. She volunteers with Lifeline, an organization that has recently taken over management of Fulton and DeKalb County animal shelters. “Outside of work, my biggest passion is building the human-animal bond and educating humans about how closely related and beneficial animals are to us. I believe if you can step into another person’s, or another animal’s, shoes, you will have more respect and care for their well-being and their place here.”