The Division of Academic General Pediatrics generates new knowledge that addresses important public health problems affecting children such as obesity, asthma and medication use. We conduct research of the highest quality that advances practice and policy to improve the health of vulnerable populations of children locally, regionally and nationally.
Our primary goal is to generate new knowledge to improve children's health. We also strive to provide exemplary training, with particular emphasis on training fellows to conduct research of the highest quality.
One of our most significant objectives is to disseminate and translate findings to advance practice and policy. To that end, we include dissemination efforts on each project as an explicit part of the protocol and prioritize projects that are likely to result in specific translation to improve health outcomes. We endeavor to provide contributions to research methodologies that address public health problems and translation.
Our faculty conduct research in pediatric obesity, medication use, asthma genetics and health policy and translation of evidence into practice and policy. Our research addresses the specific problems of vulnerable populations and health disparities. Our faculty researchers have secured funding from the NIH, multiple foundations and state grant mechanisms.
Please browse the sections below to learn more about our research initiatives and our faculty's research projects.
Broadly, the research conducted by faculty in our division focuses on “Kids in Context.” Our collective research efforts, funded by multiple granting agencies including federal and non-federal sources, have contributed to the evidence base that elucidates how biological and social contextual factors contribute to the development of childhood disease. As pediatricians, we are firmly committed to disease prevention, early intervention, and health promotion across the child’s lifespan.
The Division of Academic General Pediatrics has multiple fellowship-trained faculty who are independently funded physician-scientists. Through our fellowship program, we are committed to training the next generation of child health researchers. We have a long track record of effective mentoring, collaborative research, and supporting junior investigators in the early phases of their careers.
Patients are the heart of our research; therefore, we endeavor to engage our patients through every phase of research – from planning, to recruitment, to dissemination of findings. We are committed to listening to and engaging with our patients and community to inform our efforts as we collaborate to conduct cutting-edge clinical translational research of the highest quality. We engage with our community through various avenues, including patient advisory panels, community advisory boards, and the Nashville Collaborative, a partnership between the Division of Academic General Pediatrics and Parks and Recreation, and more than 10 community partners to develop and implement pragmatic potentially sustainable approaches to improve the health of children and families in their communities.
We are committed to the timely dissemination of research findings in efforts to advance practice and policy to improve the health of populations of children locally, regionally, and nationally. We are also committed to providing research results to participants. Our goal is to engage key stakeholders throughout our research process, including the most effective ways to disseminate findings outside of usual scientific channels.
Shari Barkin, MD, MSHS
Dr. Shari Barkin is the William K Warren Foundation Endowed Chair Professor of Pediatrics, Director of Pediatric Obesity Research, and Chief of General Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Funded by NHLBI, NICHD, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the State of Tennessee, Dr. Barkin conducts family-based community-centered interventions to change health behaviors in parent-child dyads around big public health issues. She conducted the first intervention trial in the Pediatric Research in Office Settings (PROS) network examining a clinic-based intervention to reduce youth violence. Currently, her laboratory studies family-based community centered clinical interventions to measurably reduce childhood obesity in underserved populations. The lab is focused on changing body mass index trajectories in childhood, applying the ecologic model that considers the child in the context of their family, and the family in the context of their community. A theme of the lab is the interaction between genetics, behavior, environment, and child development to identify sensitive periods for effective pediatric obesity prevention.
Kecia Carroll, MD, MPH
Dr. Kecia Carroll is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and the Director of Faculty Diversity and Inclusion in the Department of Pediatrics. She is a General Academic Pediatrics fellowship trained asthma epidemiologist with a primary focus on the influence of prenatal and early life exposures on child respiratory and atopic disease. Dr. Carroll’s research emphasis includes investigating in retrospective and prospective cohorts modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors for respiratory disease in young children, including factors such as familial asthma and atopy, maternal exposures during pregnancy, and viral exposures during infancy. Dr. Carroll is a former recipient of the Parker B. Francis Fellowship Program in Pulmonary Medicine and her current NIH-funded work investigates maternal dietary exposures during pregnancy and the development of early childhood respiratory and atopic disease.
Ellen Wright Clayton, MD, PhD
Dr. Ellen Clayton is a member of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, a Professor of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt, and the Rosalind E. Franklin Endowed Professor of Genetics and Health Policy. Her research focuses on the ethical, legal, and social implications of the conduct and translation of genomics research into clinical care. She is the co-PI of a transdisciplinary Center for Excellence in ELSI Research focusing on Genetic Privacy and Identity in Community Settings and of a project that seeks to define the legal framework for genomics. In addition, she has been involved in the eMERGE consortium assessing the impact of returning genomic results.
William O. Cooper, MD, MPH
Dr. Bill Cooper is the Cornelius Vanderbilt Endowed Professor of Pediatrics. He is a pediatric pharmaco-epidemiologist with specific expertise in population-based studies of medication use in children and pregnant women. His research has focused on assessing the safety of medications for a variety of vulnerable populations, including studies of adherence to therapies and guideline recommended screening.
James Gay, MD, MMHC
Dr. Jim Gay is a Professor of Pediatrics and currently Medical Director of Utilization Management and Assistant Chief of Staff for Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. Dr. Gay’s research interests focus on quality of care in hospital settings, specifically home health services, the growing population of patients with primary mental health conditions admitted to acute care hospitals, and the study of pediatric readmissions.
William J. Heerman, MD, MPH
Dr. Bill Heerman is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics. He is the Fellowship Director for Academic General Pediatrics and the Director of Divisional Research. He co-leads the Epidemiology Track of Vanderbilt’s Master in Public Health Program. His research focuses improving maternal-child health outcomes related to obesity in communities through the development and implementation of behavioral interventions to support healthy childhood growth. He has a particular focus on low-income and minority populations. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics and is committed to creating multi-generational solutions to health disparities.
Seth Scholer, MD, MPH
Dr. Seth Scholer is a Professor of Pediatrics. His research has focused on how to improve pediatric services in the area of child maltreatment prevention. He has developed and successfully implemented brief, clinic-based interventions to educate parents about appropriate discipline strategies (Play Nicely). In addition, he serves on national advocacy boards and contributes to the development of child health policy in this area.
Julie Lounds Taylor, PhD
Dr. Julie Taylor is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics. She is a developmental psychologist who focuses on family centered transitions of care in children and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders. She serves as the Associate Editor for the journal Autism. In addition to her work as an independently funded researcher, Dr. Taylor regularly engages with advocacy efforts and policy-related work for children with intellectual disabilities.
Sara Van Driest, MD, PhD
Dr. Sara Van Driest is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics. She is a general pediatrician with training in clinical pharmacology. Her research utilizes large datasets to understand variability in drug response, with a strong focus on building evidence for drug-gene interactions to accelerate implementation into clinical practice. Major efforts in her career have been to use bio-banked DNA samples and electronic health records (EHR) data for adult and pediatric pharmacogenomic research and to explore clinical and genetic risk factors contributing to common adverse drug events such as acute kidney injury. She has ongoing work investigating the role of genetic variants in the response to medications commonly used in children including proton pump inhibitors, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and analgesics, and to leverage large clinical datasets to uncover latent effects of drug exposures in infancy.
Elizabeth Williams, MD, MPH
Dr. Elizabeth Williams is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics. Her research focuses on vaccine safety, vaccine hesitancy, and education for health professionals. Most recently, she has led a randomized trial evaluating the impact of an education and quality improvement project on vaccination rates for middle Tennessee children. She also serves as small group facilitator for both the Master of Public Health Epidemiology program and the research immersion course for the Vanderbilt School of Medicine medical students.