National Clinician Scholars Program

Advancing health through scholarship and action


The National Clinician Scholars Program at UCLA joins forces with a broad array of private and public Southern California partners to create the UCLA-Southern California Clinician Leaders Program. Our goal is to train the clinician workforce needed to address the most pressing health problems in our region.

Joann Elmore, MD, MPH
Program Director

Linda Sarna, PhD, RN, FAAN, AOCN
Program Director

MarySue V. Heilemann, PhD, RN
Associate Director - Nursing

Debra Saliba, MD, MPH, AGSF
Associate Director - VA Liaison

Cristina Punzalan, MPH
Program Administrative Director

Casey Covarrubias, MPH
Associate Administrative Director

10940 Wilshire Blvd. Ste. 710
Los Angeles, Ca 90024
Phone: (310) 794-2268
Fax: (310) 794-3288
Website: UCLA National Clinician Scholars Program

Affiliated VA Medical Center:
VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System

Joann Elmore

Dr. Joann Elmore is a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Director of the UCLA National Clinician Scholars Program. Dr. Elmore conducts scientific research on diagnostic accuracy of screening and medical tests and methods to increase engagement with patients via the OpenNotes project ( She was previously a professor of medicine and adjunct professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, as well as an affiliate investigator with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Group Health Research Institute. She has also served as head of general internal medicine at Harborview Medical Center from 2000 to 2010.

Prior to this time, Dr. Elmore was a faculty member at Yale University. Dr. Elmore has also served as Associate Director of the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars program at Yale and the University of Washington. Additionally, she was recipient of the Robert Wood Johnson Generalist Faculty Award, and subsequently a member of the National Advisory Committee for the Robert Wood Johnson Generalist Faculty award and the Clinical Scholars Program.

Dr. Elmore received her medical degree from the Stanford University School of Medicine and completed residency training in internal medicine at Yale-New Haven Hospital, with advanced training in epidemiology from the Yale School of Epidemiology and Public Health and the RWJF Clinical Scholars Program. In addition, she was a RWJF generalist physician faculty scholar. Dr. Elmore is board certified in internal medicine and serves on many national and international committees. She is Editor in Chief for Primary Care at UpToDate. Dr. Elmore enjoys seeing patients as a primary care internist and teaching clinical medicine to students and residents.

Linda Sarna

Dr. Linda Sarna, Dean and Lulu Wolf Hassenplug Endowed Chair, UCLA School of Nursing, is internationally recognized for her scholarly activities promoting nursing involvement in tobacco control. As the Principal Investigator for the Tobacco Free Nurses, recognized by the American Academy of Nursing as an Edge Runner, she initiated the first national program to help nurses quit smoking in the US and to promote the role of nurses in tobacco control, inaugurating the award-winning Website. She was the lead investigator on an analysis of 27-year smoking trends of participants in the Nurses' Health Study and led a team of investigators in the examination of national smoking trends among health care professions. She has led translational research projects to increase nursing interventions to treat tobacco dependence among hospitalized patients in the U.S., China, and Eastern Europe using web---based educational programs and resources. Dr. Sarna has collaborated with national and international nursing organizations on policies related to nurses and tobacco control, including the American Academy of Nursing and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and leading the implementation of a tobacco-free policy at UCLA.

Dr. Sarna’s honors and awards include election as a fellow to the American Academy of Nursing, recognition as a Distinguished Research Professor by the Oncology Nursing Society, and induction into the International Nurse Research Hall of Fame, Sigma Theta Tau International.

MarySue V. Heilemann is an associate professor at the UCLA School of Nursing. She is internationally known as an expert due to the rigorous approach she takes to qualitative research using Grounded Theory methodology informed by Constructivism and Pragmatism. Dr. Heilemann has pioneered the use of transmedia in health interventions related to mental health. Transmedia involves the use of storytelling over multiple digital platforms accessible on smart phones, tablets, or computers via the Internet. Dr. Heilemann’s current work involves transmedia interventions to enhance symptom management among English speaking U.S. Latina adults who are struggling with depression and/or anxiety. Fueled by qualitative input from participants, and in collaboration with community partners, Dr. Heilemann integrates issues of motivation, resilience, intergenerational cultural expectations, social justice, and gender issues in her work. Dr. Heilemann has also focused her scholarship on improving the accuracy of portrayals of nurses in film and television. She gave the June 2015 National Institute of Nursing Research Director’s Lecture entitled, “From the Silver Screen to the Web: Media Portrayals of Nursing,” and frequently speaks or consults on the topic. Dr. Heilemann initiated and moderated national symposiums in both 2011 and 2012 at UCLA focused on Media Representations of Nurses; this brought together over 300 filmmakers, nurses, administrators, producers, journalists, screen writers, directors, activists, faculty, and students. She was the Guest Editor for a special volume of the official journal of the American Academy of Nursing (Nursing Outlook) that featured original scholarship created for the 2011 Symposium. Based on her three-fold area of expertise (media-based interventions, methodologically-driven qualitative research, and mental health), Dr. Heilemann is actively refining a new model for nursing science that features transmedia portrayals of nurses as part of powerful and promising interventions with patients, the public, and nursing professionals. Dr. Heilemann completed her BSN degree at the University of Wisconsin and both her MSN and PhD at the University of California, San Francisco.

Debra Saliba

Dr. Debra Saliba is a physician with the VA GRECC and serves as the Associate Director for Education for the VA HSR&D Center for the Study of Healthcare Innovation, Implementation and Policy. Dr. Saliba also holds the Anna & Harry Borun Endowed Chair in Geriatrics at UCLA and directs the UCLA Borun Center for Applied Gerontological Research. She is also a senior natural scientist at RAND. Dr. Saliba’s research has focused on creating tools and knowledge that can be applied to improving quality of care and quality of life for vulnerable older adults and others with long-term care based services, disaster response, quality measurement, fall prevention, the association between institutional structure and quality and the development of instruments to predict functional limitation and death. One focus of Dr. Saliba’s work has been direct inclusion of older adults in assessments of their health and needs. She developed the VES-13, a survey that identifies vulnerable elders living in the community. The VES-13 has gained widespread acceptance in clinical, program and research settings internationally. Recently, Dr. Saliba was the principal investigator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ MDS 3.0 Revision and Evaluation project and collaborative VA MDS Validation project. Through this work, items that relied on resident voice were introduced, providing a direct link between MDS and resident-centered care in nursing homes throughout the US. Significant gains in MDS reliability, validity, staff satisfaction and assessment efficiency were seen. Dr. Saliba’s current research includes work to assist the state of California in developing coordinated assessment of needs and eligibility for MediCal enrollees (funded by SCAN), an evaluation of the impact of the transition of seniors and persons with disabilities to managed care (funded by CHCF), a randomized trial of an intervention to reduce nursing home to hospital transfers (funded by VA HSR&D) and an evaluation of a collaboration between VA and the Indian Health Service (funded by VA HSR&D).

Dr. Saliba directs the Los Angeles VA’s HSR&D and Clinical Scholars Fellowships and is associate director for the UCLA Clinical Scholars Program. Dr. Saliba is also a Co-director of the UCLA Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center. Her research in quality of care and vulnerable populations has received awards from the Journal of American Medical Directors Association, VA Health Services Research & Development, and the American Geriatrics Society. A recognized leader in geriatrics research and quality, Dr. Saliba has served as an expert on multiple national advisory panels addressing quality of care for older adults across care settings. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the California Association for Long Term Care Medicine, Dr. Saliba serves on the Board of Directors for the American Geriatrics Society.

Cristina Punzalan

Cristina Punzalan, MPH is the Program Administrator for the UCLA RWJF Clinical Scholars program and the National Clinician Scholars Program. Prior to coming to UCLA in 2001, she spent seven years with the Peace Corps in various capacities including serving as a student aid during her undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley, as a health education volunteer and volunteer trainer in Ecuador, and then as a recruiter upon her return to the United States. Having worked with Latina women with limited resources on a healthy lifestyle intervention program, Cristina brings a wealth of experience in research project management and operations including community engagement, institutional review board processes, budget monitoring, staffing, recruitment, training, and data collection.

Cristina has a bachelor's degree in social welfare from the University of California Berkeley and a Master of Public Health from the University of California Los Angeles.

Casey Covarrubias

Casey Covarrubias, MPH is the Associate Administrative Director for the UCLA RWJF Clinical Scholars program. Prior to UCLA, she managed a wide range of projects at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Population Medicine, as part of an FDA pilot initiative to create an active pharmaceutical safety surveillance system using big data. Her experience also includes serving as a researcher and coordinator for international health care conferences at Harvard Business School. Casey most recently completed a practicum at the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) in DC, where she provided study portfolio management, research support, and evaluation of research proposals. Casey earned her bachelor’s degree in History and Latin American Studies from Boston College and a Master of Public Health from the Yale School of Public Health, where she concentrated on health disparities and policy.