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VCOM-Virginia Researcher of the Year: Harsha Bhagtani, MD

Dr. Bhagtani's students show off her Researcher of the Year Award

Dr. Bhagtani's students show off her Researcher of the Year Award

By Amy Ostroth -

VCOM-Virginia is home to some pretty amazing faculty, which makes it difficult to choose just one each year for Researcher of the Year. This year’s recipient, Harsha Bhagtani, MD, is the discipline chair for pediatrics and is devoted to making sure her students have ample opportunities to engage in research with her. “It is very important for students to be involved in research,” she says. “As a medical school, we need to foster the future researchers of tomorrow.” 

Currently, Dr. Bhagtani and her students are working on “Feed, Read and Grow,” a multi-agency project focused on improving access to health services, food, and literacy resources in the community. The goal of the project is to deliver educational information on pediatric health-related topics in a creative way. To accomplish that, partnerships have been forged with professionals throughout the community and they are creating a suite of age-appropriate videos for children.  

Elizabeth Acors ’26, one of the students working on the project, says she has learned a lot.  “Dr. Bhagtani is so passionate about all of her research projects because they will benefit many children struggling with a variety of topics like mental health,” Acors says. “The team she has put together consists of incredible people who work together so well, and I appreciated how they included me and the other students every step of the way.”  

Dr. Bhagtani believes that community collaborations are a vital part of doing effective research. “The information is developed and vetted by a multitude of professionals, including pediatricians, personal trainers, librarians, psychologists and teachers,” she says. “Our goal is to increase the ease with which accurate and high-quality information can be provided to members of the community. Development of such a resource involves the creation of musical educational videos that feature an original song created by author, chemical engineer, and artist Carolina Smales, also known as Carol Joy ®.” 

It is very important for students to be involved in research. As a medical school, we need to foster the future researchers of tomorrow.

Harsha Bhagtani, MD , VCOM-Virginia Discipline Chair for Pediatrics

Of course, as a medical educator, she enjoys working with students and says they bring a fresh perspective to the work. “The students bring their own talents to the collaboration and improve the work with their involvement,” Dr. Bhagtani observes. “They are very interested in community service and leaving a legacy of good community programs that will benefit our patients and families.” 

Spencer Prematta ’27 has become even more interested in community service as a result of his work on the project. “Dr. Bhagtani has really instilled in me the importance of public and community health that I will certainly take with me as a physician,” he says.  

In addition to being a valuable learning experience, working with Dr. Bhagtani is an uplifting experience. “Dr. Bhagtani is the most kind, joyful, encouraging, and dedicated person I've ever met,” says Brittany Renner ’27. “She has such a passion and vision for everything she does, including this research, and it shows. This research would not be possible without her.” 

Dr. Bhagtani, along with her students and community partners, has just finished a series of pediatric anxiety videos. They are currently applying for more grants to continue their work, and she hopes to address other mental health issues for children, such as depression. 

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