Get to Know Matthew J. Gurka, PhD — Chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences

March 5, 2024 by

Matthew, his wife Kelly, and their children (Madeleine, Jack Henry, and Eleanor) in Key West, Florida. (contributed photo)

Matthew J. Gurka, PhD, a distinguished national leader in child health research, joined UVA School of Medicine as Chair, Department of Public Health Sciences, effective February 12, 2024. Dr. Gurka brings has a wealth of experience, having previously served as the Vice Chair of Health Outcomes and Translational Research, as well as the Director of the Pediatric Research Hub in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Florida. Before that, he held the position of the founding Chair of the Department of Biostatistics at West Virginia University’s School of Public Health.

Many of you may recognize Dr. Gurka as he began his academic journey in 2004 right here at the University of Virginia in the Department of Public Health Sciences, where he rose to the role of Associate Professor in the Division of Biostatistics and Epidemiology. Dr. Gurka is not only a highly regarded researcher but brings extensive experience as both an educator and academic leader.

We had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Gurka recently to learn more about his work as a researcher, exciting things happening in his field, some of his favorite things about his job, and more.

Q. Why did you choose the UVA School of Medicine Department of Public Health Sciences?

A. This is the second time I have chosen the Department of Public Health Sciences! My first faculty position was in PHS, where I developed my passion for child health research and where I witnessed firsthand the collegiality that makes UVA so special. It is an amazing opportunity for me to be able to return and lead PHS during an exciting time of growth in public health research and education.

Q. Why did you become an academic basic science researcher and choose your field of study?

A. As a child, I had a heart condition called supraventricular tachycardia or SVT, and I was one of the first patients to have it treated with a catheter ablation. It was around then that I decided I wanted to be a cardiologist when I grew up. But after a year in college, I decided to forego the pre-medicine route and pursue a math degree instead. I then discovered the field of biostatistics, one of the core areas of public health, and was excited to be able to combine my original interest in medicine with my love of statistics.

Q. What’s the most exciting thing happening in your field right now?

A. It could be my bias as a biostatistician, but the sheer amount of data available to us is the most exciting aspect of public health. How do we analyze it and make valid conclusions from it?  How do we use these data to inform programs, interventions, and treatments to improve health?

Q. What are some goals you would like to achieve during your time at UVA School of Medicine (SOM)?

A. I want to continue to grow our public health research portfolio, leveraging existing strengths of PHS and UVA School of Medicine. I want to work closely with the clinical departments and SOM leadership to expand clinical research broadly. I want to maintain our strong education programs, growing them as opportunities arise, with a specific goal of exploring a PhD program. Finally, I want to continue our focus on strong community relationships to make sure all the above matters to our surrounding community.

Q. What’s your favorite part of your job or what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

A. I love meeting with the faculty and staff in PHS and across UVA – hearing about all the wonderful things they are doing and the ideas they have, both in research and education.  I love to brainstorm and think big, and these types of conversations really motivate me.

Q. What is one thing you wish your colleagues knew about you before they met you? Or what is one thing that may surprise people to learn about you?

A. It always surprises people to learn I played football in college. I tell people that the position I played, offensive line, in which one never touches the football and scores, perfectly exemplifies me as a person and a leader. I love to get in the trenches and create paths for my teammates, and that is my primary goal here as chair of PHS.

Q. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

A. Pace yourself.

Q. How do you spend your time away from work? Hobbies?

A. I love to cook and love to try new restaurants. I have a wife and three kids (17, 15, and 10-years-old), and we are all “foodies.” I can’t wait for them to join me here in Charlottesville this summer to explore the food scene (both old and new for us!).


Filed Under: Faculty