Faculty Spotlight: Nina Sperber, PhD


Our GIM Spotlight is on Nina Sperber, PhD, a health services researcher with a focus on using qualitative and mixed methods. However, reading her story you will learn interesting facts. Going back post-college she worked as an “urban archeologist” and more recently she is finding investigative intrigue as an implementation researcher.

Here are the questions we asked, beginning with “How long have you been at Duke?”
I started my work at Duke as a postdoc in health services research in 2010 and have been affiliated with the division since.

What are your responsibilities within the division? What does a typical day for you look like?
I help investigators determine when and how to use qualitative and mixed methods in designing studies to answer their research questions. I also work as a co-Investigator on qualitative and mixed methods studies, overseeing data collection and analysis. I feel that there is no typical day for me, but the days that I love are when I get to collaborate with those who have different vantage points than I do, for example, economists, statisticians, or clinicians; I also enjoy communicating results by writing papers or developing visuals.

“…the days that I love are when I get to collaborate with those who have different vantage points than I do”

Could you tell us more about your role as a researcher?
I have a particular focus on bringing research to policy and practice and have published and presented work primarily in the areas of aging, personalized medicine, and telemedicine. Currently, I am working with the Duke Center for Applied Genomics and Precision Medicine as part of the Implementing Genomics in Practice (IGNITE) network on a mixed-methods project to evaluate how strategies to implement genomic services relate to implementation outcomes. I also recently collaborated with Dr. Van Houtven, a health economist in GIM, and colleagues to investigate how adult children could impact parents’ long-term care insurance purchase decisions. We conducted focus groups in different markets and framed our questions according to economic theory and evidence on family factors and long-term care insurance purchase; we highlighted policy relevance of our findings, specifically that this new evidence could be used to design communication strategies to stimulate uptake of long-term care insurance, as recommended by the Commission on Long-Term Care in its Report to the Congress.


Nina with her husband Darrell, daughter Beatrice and son Evan during a family trip to Las Vegas

How did you get into this field?
My work evaluating dissemination of a research-based physical activity program into diverse San Francisco Bay Area community settings is what led me to the field of public health and a PhD in health behavior; my postdoc through AHRQ is what introduced me to health services research.

How has your subject area changed (or where you see future changes)?
I don’t know that my subject area has changed, but rather I keep adding new areas.  Five years ago I had not heard of implementation research and now I think about some aspect of program and policy implementation just about every day. I see the area of genomics becoming more central to my work as a health services researcher, as discoveries become more accessible and integrated into practice.

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of the division?
I enjoy painting, pictures not walls.

What is a fun fact about you that people may not know?
My first job out of college was as an urban archaeologist, working on an excavation in the Octagon House in the heart of Washington, DC.