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Brian Solomon’s Guide To The Stars: Economics Professor Douglas Staiger

Dartmouth has a wealth of experienced professors who lead their respective research fields, while also working closely with students — inspiring them in the classroom and leading them in laboratory environments. And while at Dartblog we talk frequently about problems that need to be fixed at the College, there are still many bright spots. Our professors deserve more recognition for their achievements. As such, this is one in a series of posts that shines a spotlight on the best professors in Hanover:

Doug Staiger1.jpgDoug Staiger is the John French Professor of Economics at Dartmouth, where his statistical research is making a major public policy impact in the complicated fields of health care and education. Staiger’s work analyzes the effectiveness of K-12 teachers to boost student learning potential, as well as the performance of doctors to affect positive outcomes for hospital patients.

An alumnus of Williams College (where he graduated magna cum laude), Staiger worked briefly at a health care consultancy in Boston and then earned his Ph.D. in economics from MIT in 1990. He taught at Stanford and then the Harvard Kennedy School before joining Dartmouth in a tenure track position in 1998 — a post that he accepted over one offered in his home state at the University of Michigan.

Staiger now says he’s sure he made the correct choice. He enjoys teaching undergraduates in the ever-expanding Econ department, although he only leads one course a year these days, an upper level seminar on econometrics. There, he encourages his students to do research worthy of being published (that level is what earns them an A grade).

As for his own research, Staiger is a standout, with over 19,000 total citations according to Google Scholar; he has received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and many other sources. His H-Index, a common way to measure citation breadth and depth (computed as the largest number H such that H publications have at least H citations), is 60.

In the educational arena, he looks at how teachers impact the performance of their students. As anyone who has had good and bad teachers can attest — they make a big difference. But Staiger and his research partners have proven, by tracking students and teachers over time, and even randomly assigning 1000 teachers to various classrooms, that there is a large and persistent difference in quality from teacher to teacher. If embraced by school districts as a management system, this conclusion has the potential to rapidly bring our education system into a new century of evaluation and accountability.

Staiger applies those same statistical methods to study the world of doctors, where patient outcomes vary significantly from hospital to hospital, even in the same city. In this area, he co-founded a for-profit company, ArborMetrix, with the Chief Medical Officer at Dartmouth-Hitchcock John Birkmeyer. ArborMetrix helps organizations like the registry of bariatric surgeons to assess outcomes for their doctors and physicians.

In parallel to his quality of care and productivity analysis, Staiger has also been a leader in workforce statistical analysis in the health care arena. In the early 2000s, he released results that showed the nursing profession to be in dire straits, with a huge bulge of baby boomer nurses preparing for retirement — and few young people replacing them. The study drew national attention to the problem.

Most recently, he wrote a paper (along with his former Dartmouth student Sam Marshall ‘12) that looked at a surprising reason rural areas of the U.S. are facing a shortage of doctors: power couples. While only 10% of doctors in 1960 were married to a spouse with a master’s degree or higher, that number was 54% in 2010. Highly educated Americans, like many Dartmouth alumni, are increasingly seeking out partners of similar education and career ambition. Unfortunately, attracting qualified doctors is increasingly difficult because the partner of those doctors can’t find career options in rural areas.

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