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Catherine Velopulos, MD

Catherine Velopulos Named AVC of Health Equity and Health Services Research for CU Department of Surgery 

Velopulos, professor of GI, trauma, and endocrine surgery, wants to help junior faculty conduct research around health disparities. 

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Written by Greg Glasgow on January 22, 2024

The University of Colorado Department of Surgery is putting a greater focus on health equity with the appointment of Catherine Velopulos, MD, to the new role of associate vice chair of health equity and health services research. 

In her new position, Velopulos will be responsible for coordinating clinical programs and research that address health care inequities and health care delivery, supporting research efforts for faculty and trainees and advising on funding strategies, promoting collaboration among departmental faculty and across departments, and creating a strategic review of the department research and research funding portfolio to identify gaps and opportunities for growth, faculty recruitment, and faculty retention. 

“Health equity is not a goal that we've achieved yet in any area of medicine,” says Velopulos, professor of GI, trauma, and endocrine surgery. “There's a huge gap in people being able to access the kind of care they need, specifically for specialty care and surgical subspecialties. The whole idea of this position is to build capacity for people in this department to be looking at this, whether it’s surgical oncology, trauma or vascular surgery, cardiothoracic surgery, or any other surgical subspecialty.” 

Resources for research 

Velopulos has been mentoring junior faculty members and even students and residents as they begin to research such health equity areas as transportation, health literacy, employment, and insurance. 

“The next generation very much understands the role we have to play in society,” she says. “Junior faculty are interested, but they don't have the resources they need to do the data collection or analysis. The whole point of the research is that it's translational — that we actually do something with that data and impact the system. There are things that can be done at the personal level, the hospital level, and the community level that we can impact.” 

Velopulos, who has worked in the CU Department of Surgery for the past eight years, says her interest in health equity flows naturally from her surgical subspecialty of trauma and emergency surgery because of the large number of vulnerable, underinsured, and uninsured patients she treats. 

“They may be in a situation in their life where maybe they don't have a job where they have PTO, so they can't go in and see someone to talk about an elective surgery,” she says. “They just let it go until it becomes an emergency. You have a lot of people who, for instance, should present to a surgical oncologist if they have a cancer, but they don't end up coming to the hospital until it's an emergency, such as colon perforation. We need to set up our system so that people get earlier access to care. That way it becomes less costly, and they have better outcomes.” 

Building a career in trauma surgery and health equity 

It was a Reader’s Digest article about pediatric trauma surgeons she read at age 14 that first attracted Velopulos to the field of trauma surgery. Before attending medical school at the University of Texas, she worked as an EMT; after receiving her MD, she attended graduate school at Johns Hopkins University and did a fellowship in surgical critical care at the University of Florida.  

Health equity has always been an important component of her research and the care she provides, and she is happy to see it becoming a larger focus for the CU Department of Surgery. 

“It's important at every level, especially for the patient,” she says. “Our motto for our department is ‘improve every life,’ and if we improve the care our patients can get and we improve how we help each other look at this issue, then we're improving every life, whether it's the patient, the researcher, or the surgeon. It's really our mission. As health care workers, we want to feel like we're actually making a difference. That's what I want to do."