School of Medicine alumna makes foreign aid dollars go further

Carrie Dolan, Ph.D., part of VCU’s first class of health care policy and research graduates, advocates for countries with health care challenges, limited resources.

Carrie Dolan.
VCU alumna Carrie Dolan, Ph.D., works at the College of William and Mary examining public health issues. She graduated in the first class of the health behavior and policy doctoral program at the VCU School of Medicine. (Photo by Heather Guntherberg)

For developing nations facing a health care crisis, foreign aid can be hard to come by and long-awaited. Virginia Commonwealth University alumna Carrie Dolan, Ph.D., wants to make sure aid is used wisely when it arrives.

She has dedicated her education, career and research to becoming an advocate for populations struggling with health care challenges amid limited resources. In 2017, she was part of the first cohort to complete the School of Medicine’s Ph.D. program in healthcare policy and research

Dolan credits the program with expanding her studies beyond medicine and into other subjects essential to her career, such as economics. 

“If I wanted to have a voice in a policy discussion, I needed to know how money was being used,” Dolan said.

She has since made recommendations to major grant funders including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank to help them get more “bang for their buck.”

Now in her third year as an assistant professor of kinesiology and health sciences at the College of William & Mary, Dolan oversees Ignite, a multidisciplinary research lab based at William & Mary's Global Research Institute. In her current projects there, she is examining public health issues in Kenya and the Dominican Republic to maximize grant funding. 

She fondly recalls her time on the MCV Campus, particularly the faculty whom she said, “met me where I was in my learning and helped me grow as a researcher.”

There’s a finite amount of money for public health goals, and we need to think wisely about how we’re using these resources.

Andrew Barnes, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy, served as Dolan's adviser and praised “her passion for using science to improve how international aid is used.”

Dolan’s journey toward public health advocacy began in 2000 when she received her bachelor's degree from East Carolina University with a major in community health education and a minor in anthropology.

After two jobs in Virginia, she realized she wanted to expand her scope and work globally, which she did through the Peace Corps in St. James, Jamaica. Her learning during that experience set the stage for her career.

While studying how best to use a $20,000 grant for HIV prevention in St. James, Dolan saw the value of partnering with the local community in determining the appropriate allocation of funds.

“There’s a finite amount of money for public health goals," she said, "and we need to think wisely about how we’re using these resources.” 

After the Peace Corps, Dolan earned her M.P.H. in epidemiology from Tulane University in 2015. Her research has taken her around the world to Jamaica, Kenya, Ghana and the United Arab Emirates.

It has also earned her membership in The Explorers Club, a U.S.-based international multidisciplinary professional society that connects explorers and scientists worldwide, including the late Jacques Cousteau and Jane Goodall.

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