Gillings School Directory
Sarah A. Birken, PhD

Sarah A. Birken, PhD

Assistant Professor
Health Policy and Management
  • 1106F McGavran-Greenberg
  • CB #7411
  • Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7411
Sarah Birken, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, Director of the Program on Implementation and Organization Research (PrIOR) at the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, and an Associate Member of Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Birken’s research focuses on translating evidence into practice. Specifically, Dr. Birken studies middle managers’ role in implementing evidence-based practices, the implementation of innovations in cancer care, and the selection and application of implementation theories. Dr. Birken’s research has been funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Cancer Research Network, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Birken serves as a National Institutes of Health Center for Scientific Review Early Career Reviewer, Co-chair of George Washington Cancer Institute’s PCORI-funded Generation and Translation of Evidence Survivorship Special Interest Group, and Core Faculty in the Dissemination and Implementation Science Methods Unit of the North Carolina Translational & Clinical Sciences Institute.

Dr. Birken has served as an expert speaker for organizations such as the National Cancer Survivorship Resource Center, the Veterans Affairs Center for Clinical Management Research, the Center for Disease Prevention and Control’s National Comprehensive Cancer Control Program Directors, and the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Survivorship Committee.

Dr. Birken teaches PhD seminars in health services research methods (HPM 885) and organizational theory (HPM 930).

Dr. Birken is also committed to the advancement of women scholars. She has published on the topic in the Chronicle of Higher Education and serves on the Committee on the Status of Women as well as Women in Science Deserve Opportunities and Mentoring at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Birken also co-hosts AcaDames, a podcast about women in academia.

Dr. Birken received her MSPH and PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Health Policy and Management with Delta Omega honors and her BA from the University of California, Berkeley in Women’s Studies with Phi Beta Kappa honors. She received postdoctoral training at Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and was a research fellow in the National Institutes of Health-funded Mentored Training for Dissemination and Implementation in Research in Cancer and Training Institute for Dissemination and Implementation in Health programs.

Dr. Birken has won awards for distinguished scholarly achievement, such as the Doctoral Competitive Merit Scholarship and the Academy of Management’s Health Care Management Division’s Emerging Scholars Program and Best Paper Based on a Dissertation.

Honors and Awards

Emerging Scholar

2016, Academy of Management Health Care Division

Fellow, Mentored Training for Dissemination and Implementation in Research in Cancer

June 2014 - June 2016, National Cancer Institute, St. Louis, MO.

Fellow, Training Institute for Dissemination and Implementation in Health

June 2011, National Cancer Institute, Chapel Hill, NC.

Winner, Health Care Management Division Best Paper Based on a Dissertation: Birken SA. Where the rubber meets the road: Middle managers’ role in innovation implementation in health care organizations.

2010, Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management. Montreal.

Representative Courses

HPM 885 - Health Services/Health Policy Research Methods | Syllabus

HPM 930 - Doctoral Seminar in Organizational Theory and Health Care Organizations | Syllabus

Research Activities

  • Implementation of evidence-based practices
  • Health care organization and delivery
  • Quality improvement
  • Cancer survivorship
  • Theory selection and application
  • Qualitative methods
  • Mixed methods
  • Survey research

Key Publications

Harmonizing evidence-based practice, implementation context, and implementation strategies with user-centered design: a case example in young adult cancer care. Emily R. Haines, Alex Dopp, Aaron R. Lyon, Holly O. Witteman, Miriam Bender, Gratianne Vaisson, Danielle Hitch, Sarah Birken Under review.
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The case for integrating implementation science in survivorship care plan research. Selove R, Birken SA, Skolarus T, Hahn EE. (2016). Journal of Clinical Oncology.
View publication

Potential determinants of survivorship care plan use in US cancer programs: A qualitative study using the theoretical domains framework. Birken SA, Presseau JP, Ellis S, Gerstel A, Mayer DM. (2014). Implementation Science, 9(1), 167.
View publication

Uncovering middle managers’ role in innovation implementation in health care organizations. Birken SA, Lee, S-YD, Weiner, BJ. Implementation Science. (2012). BioMed Central. ‘Highly Accessed’ article., 7(28).
View publication


BA, Women's Studies (Phi Beta Kappa), University of California, Berkeley, 2002

MSPH (Delta Omega), Health Policy and Management, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2006

PhD, Health Policy and Management (Minor: Sociology/Organizational Behavior), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2011

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