Celebrating 20 Years of Inspiring the Next Generation of Health Services Researchers

GJ Melendez-Torres, DPhil, MPhil, SUMR '08

GJ Melendez-Torres

GJ Melendez-Torres, DPhil, MPhil, SUMR '08

In high school, Gerardo Melendez-Torres came down with a severe case of pertussis, was taken to a hospital emergency department (ED), confined to a biocontained room, and spent the day looking out on a frantically busy emergency treatment area. In his application to the SUMR program in 2008, he remembered how impressed he was then by the "flashy technologies" of the ER and how the space was like a theatrical drama of emergency care that never stopped. He went on to note that his interest in ERs after that never faded. "My research interest is in the economic, social, and clinical history of the ED -- it is my view that changes in the ED closely mirror changes in the nation's health care system," he wrote.

As a sophomore enrolled in the dual degree Penn Nursing and Wharton School Health Care Management program, Melendez-Torres was accepted into the SUMR program. In his application, he said "one of my goals for the summer is to gain experience with methods commonly used for health services research." For his SUMR research project, he was mentored by LDI Senior Fellow and Nursing School Professor Eileen Lake, PhD, RN, the Associate Director of the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research. Their work analyzed nurse-patient staffing ratios in neonatal intensive care units. 

"My experience in SUMR is the reason I progressed to a doctorate, and I credit the head start it gave me as a researcher with the trajectory my career has taken," Melendez-Torres said in a recent email interview.

"To undergrads thinking about health care careers," he continued, "I say, if you want to learn about why some people get sick and why others don’t; why the people who get sick frequently get a raw deal from the healthcare system, and what we can do to make healthcare more just and equitable; what you can do as a researcher to make a difference in the health and wellbeing of populations -- then SUMR is for you. I am grateful I was chosen, and I continue to see how it benefits my career every day."

After his SUMR experience, Melendez-Torres received his BS degrees from Penn Nursing  and Wharton as well as both a Truman Scholarship and a Marshall Scholarship. The latter is a British government scholarship program that pays all tuition and fees for studies at any university in the United Kingdom. At Oxford, Melendez-Torres earned both an MPhil and DPhil in evidence-based research methodology.

Today, Melendez-Torres is a professor of Clinical and Social Epidemiology at the University of Exeter in England and the newly-named Director of the university-affiliated Peninsula Technology Assessment Group that specializes in the assessing the clinical and cost effectiveness of health care technology for the British government.