Get to know Amit Kumar, who recently joined the Department of Physical Therapy and Athletic Training as an associate professor. Kumar is an accomplished and award-winning researcher who is passionate about rehabilitation science and improving the standards of care for rehab care for racial and ethnic minorities and those with low socioeconomic status.
Tell me about your background and how you ended up at the College of Health?
"I’m a physical therapist by training and I completed my education for that in India. I worked for a few years in a geriatric setting in India and a community-based rehabilitation setting in Nepal.
Growing up in a farmer family in the Bihar state of India, one of the poorest regions of India, my family members had limited and poor access to primary health care. I have also seen the prevalence of caste-based discrimination in India, similar to race-based discrimination in the United States.
In 2008, I decided to come to the U.S. and pursue my master’s degree in rehabilitation science at the University of Pittsburgh. I wanted to do something in population health that included rehabilitation science, looking at the bigger picture and policy. We’ve done great work with PT clinical trials in the lab environment, but I wanted to study that in larger populations, and how U.S. healthcare policies affect it.
I asked those questions and I wasn’t getting the answers. I decided to pursue a PhD in population health and got exposed to health service research using longitudinal aging studies and administrative Medicare “big data.” This let me explore the disability, unmet rehabilitation needs, and effectiveness of rehabilitation, which started my journey in public health. I was interested in working with older and minority populations. I ended up at Northern Arizona University and was recently recruited to the University of Utah.
At the University of Utah, we have an advantage with the collaboration between two large integrated healthcare systems and our College of Health has a long history of health service research. The PhD in Rehabilitation Science program is well-known in the U.S. and that was the motivation for me to come and join this amazing team. Our program allows students to use health service methods and translate research to health care providers to solve problems in the health care system."
You’re a successful researcher who recently received two substantial grants. Tell us about those?
"Right after I accepted the job offer here, I got news that I’d received the grants. The first one is a R01 grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities to study the relationship between race/ethnicity, poverty, and stroke treatment and recovery in older populations here in the U.S. It’s for five years and around $3.8 million.
Research has shown noticeable disparities in the prevalence of stroke and recovery by racial and ethnic minorities and those with low socioeconomic status. Unfortunately, there is a poor understanding of unmet rehabilitation needs in post-acute settings.
This is a mixed methods study, and we want to understand if there’s a racial and socioeconomic disparity in the delivery of quality and intensity of rehab care in the stroke population. Are these interactions affected by race, by socioeconomics, or maybe there’s a compounding effect, and how does this influence the post-acute rehabilitation care they receive?
We also plan to do qualitative interviews with the caregivers and providers to find out their perspective when they’re referring and discharging patients from acute care. So, we’ll be integrating the big quantitative data with the qualitative results.
We want to find a solution for better rehabilitation care. For example, when you’re looking up restaurants you can use Yelp reviews to find the best place to eat. We want to do something similar for patients who have a stroke and need physical rehabilitation. We plan to create a star ranking for different rehab providers based on objective measures. You’ll be able to look up providers in your zip code and make a well-informed decision about where to receive the best care.
The other grant is a NIH Research Enhancement Award, a R15. I’m co-principal investigator and my PI is Shweta Gore, Associate Professor at MGH-Institute of Health Professions, Boston. It focuses on older populations with heart failure and multiple co-morbid conditions. The risk of hospitalization and nursing home placement is high for this group, but the risk prediction models are based on co-morbid conditions. They don’t account for other factors like the patient’s functional status: frailty, grip strength, how long they will walk, and so on.
In this study, we’re trying to build a risk prediction model for this population that includes walking speed and grip strength. This will optimize clinical decision-making for preventive care in older adults with heart failure. This grant will also enhance inter-disciplinary geriatrics research and training among health professional graduate students at the University of Utah and MGH-Institute of Health Professions, Boston."
You also recently received two major awards, tell us more about them?
"I received the Excellence in Geriatric Research Award from the geriatrics section of the American Physical Therapy Association in February. My paper was published in the American Physical Therapy Journal and studies payment program policies in the context of rehabilitation care.
The government has rolled out different policies over the last five years to improve patient outcomes and reduce the cost of care. We wanted to see how these policies and different payment models have impacted the delivery of physical therapy after joint replacement therapy.
It was humbling for me to receive this award and encouraging as a junior faculty member. Hopefully it will encourage health service researchers in the PT field and motivate them to do health policy and equity research, since there isn’t a lot of health policy research in the field currently.
I also received the Deborah L. Wilkerson Early Career Award, and it goes to someone who has a high impact in interdisciplinary rehab research. I’m very involved in the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine and have been for the last 10 years. It’s an early career award and this was the last year I was eligible for it.
I wasn’t expecting it at all, it’s a very prestigious organization so it was a surprise to me. I’ll receive the award in November in Atlanta and give a lecture at the award ceremony. Again, hopefully this is motivation for junior faculty and students to do more research in the field of health policy and equity."
What’s your favorite part of being in the College of Health so far?
"People are very friendly and welcoming; I’ve felt since Day One that it’s a familiar place. It’s a good balance between laid-back and outdoorsy culture. My other favorite part is that they’re not just investing in me, but in building a center for excellence in aging that will push me to be a leader on a bigger level. It was very impressive that they were already thinking ahead and had strategized their plan."
What are your career goals for the next 5-10 years?
"My big goal is to set up the Center for Excellence in the field of rehabilitation science and equity research. It will be a place where we can study how to address the gaps in rehabilitation care in underserved populations and find different solutions and models of care. That will be the biggest objective, so we’ll also train students and junior postdocs in health service areas. I also want to encourage and train more junior faculty do more research, so we’ll write grants, we’ll work on stronger collaborations with community leaders, stakeholders, and the School of Medicine and Department of Population Health.
I think there’s a big need for this work, there are a lot of so-called 'rehab deserts' in the West where we’re lacking healthcare providers and networks in rural areas. Let’s come together to find solutions to improve the delivery of care."