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Mark Holmes has been contributing to research at Carolina for 25 years.

Mark Holmes standing in front of the Chatham Hospital
Photo by Andrew Russell


Mark Holmes has worked for UNC-Chapel Hill for 25 years in a variety of roles, most recently as director of the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research. He is also a professor of health policy and management in the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

What brought you to Carolina?

Spring break of my junior year at Michigan State University, I visited Raleigh before going out to see my grandfather in Brevard. I had not really considered North Carolina for my graduate work, but this trip to the state piqued my interest, and I found that UNC-Chapel Hill met most of my needs. When my wife and I drove down I-77 out of Fancy Gap for my official graduate program visit, the blooming wildflowers and lush green grass were a welcome contrast to the muddy snow we had left in Michigan. I knew I was home.

How has your role here changed over the years?

When I was pursuing my PhD in labor economics, I was offered a graduate research assistant position at the Sheps Center studying the labor market decisions of physicians. Before I knew it, I had shifted my interests from labor economics to health economics. Since then, my research has generally focused on the “supply side” of health economics — how market, state, and federal policies influence physicians, hospitals, and health systems, and how those decisions affect individual and population health outcomes. Typically, my research is explicitly designed to be policy-relevant, developing the study approach around methods that policymakers can use to improve health.

At each career stage, I have had incredible mentors who have encouraged me to grow and seek out new opportunities and research interests. I’ve progressed from a research associate to faculty and served as the vice president of the NC Institute of Medicine — where I developed an appetite for North Carolina policy — an associate chair in the Department of Health Policy and Management, and now director of the Sheps Center.

What’s kept you at Carolina? 

First, engagement with policymakers is valued and encouraged. My “why” for research is to make the world a better place. For my agenda, that specifically applies to rural America and North Carolina. I appreciate that the university understands that research has impact in many ways; mine is usually by informing policymaking.

Second, my colleagues have kept me here. I have been lucky to have mentors who have placed a lot of pride in the quality of their mentoring and have helped me discover my own path. I work hard to pay it forward to the next generation.

What contribution are you most proud of?    

One of my mentors, who had a very distinguished research career, told me that his most prized achievement was helping establish North Carolina Health Choice. I remember my surprise that such a legend in his field was most proud not of his own grants, papers, or awards, but of his contributions in an unheralded manner to a policy that helped hundreds of thousands of North Carolina children and their families. This is how I approach my research. I am proud not of one specific contribution, but of the quiet, hidden manner in which I help influence policy incrementally — whether it is working with the state at the onset of the pandemic, evaluating the transformation of our state Medicaid program, or helping design policies that help keep rural North Carolina hospitals strong.

What is a uniquely Carolina experience you’ve had? 

In my first day of being a graduate assistant at the Sheps Center, I accidentally deleted the source data off the server for an entire research project. It took an hour to verify there was a backup somewhere. But as the principal investigator and IT personnel worked to fix my dumb mistake, they did not make me feel like the complete idiot I imagined myself to be.

Rooted recognizes long-standing members of the UNC-Chapel Hill community who have aided in the advancement of research by staying at Carolina. They are crucial to the UNC Research enterprise, experts in their fields, and loyal Tar Heels. Know someone we should feature? Nominate a researcher.

Read more Rooted stories here.

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