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Sarah Zheng

Gustavson researcher Sarah Zheng

Associate Professor

Office: BEC 438 250-853-3217
Bachelor of Economics, Peking University, China; MA in Economics, Boston University; PhD in Management, Boston University
Area of expertise:
Service operations, data-driven healthcare operations, healthcare policy, econometric analysis, business analytics, machine learning


Sarah Zheng joined the Gustavson School of Business in 2018. Her research vision is to combine her knowledge of the operations management literature and her data analytics training to design systems and processes to improve organizational performance. She is particularly interested in examining how health care organizations can achieve higher performance by improving their internal operations at the process level, and engaging patients in these efforts through cost-sharing at the system level. To study that, she employs econometric, machine learning and statistical techniques to analyze large datasets from insurance claims, clinical databases, hospital operations, and performance data and surveys of the health care workforce. Her ultimate goal is to create evidence-based, implementable solutions for managers and policy makers that will have a meaningful impact on practice. Her research has been published in top journal outlets such as Journal of Operations Management, Production and Operations Management and Medical Care, and featured in media outlets such as U.S. News & World Report and Wolters Kluwer.

Prior to the University of Victoria, Sarah served as an assistant professor at Ithaca College School of Business, and a lecturer at Boston University Questrom School of Business in the United States. She also worked at Boston Medical Center on Massachusetts health reform studies. She earned a Bachelor of Economics from Peking University, China, an MA in Economics and a PhD in Operations Management from Boston University.


Courses taught

  • Operations Management (BCom)
  • Service Operations (BCom)

Selected publications

Journal publications

Lawrence, B., Zhang, J., Hus, L., Zheng, S. (2021). Return on Investments in Hotel Franchising: Understanding Moderating Effects of Franchisee Dependence. Production and Operations Management.

Tucker, A., Zheng, S., Gardner, J., & Bohn, R. (2020). When do Workarounds Help or Hurt Patient Outcomes? The Moderating Role of Operational Failures. Journal of Operations Management66, 67–90. 

Zheng, S., Lubin, B., Au, R., Murabito, J., Benjamin, E. j., & Shwartz, M. (2019). Advantages of Continuous-Valued Risk Scores for Predicting Long-Term Costs: The Framingham Coronary Heart Disease 10-Year Risk Score. Advances in Geriatric Medicine and Research, (1:e190004). 

Zheng, S., Hanchate, A. d., & Shwartz, M. (2019). One-Year Costs of Medical Admissions With and Without a 30-Day Readmission and Enhanced Risk Adjustment. BMC Health Services Research, 19(155).

Zheng, S., Tucker, A. L., Ren, Z. J., Heineke, J., McLaughlin, A., & Podell, A. L. (2018). The Impact of Internal Service Quality on Preventable Adverse Events in Hospitals. Production and Operations Management, 27(12), 2201–2212.

Zheng, S., Ren, Z. J., Heineke, J., & Geissler, K. H. (2016). Reductions in Diagnostic Imaging With High Deductible Health Plans. Medical Care, 54(2), 110–117.


Awards & grants

Recognition & awards

  • 2022 - Excellence in Research, Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria


  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research Grant on “Childhood Obesity Management Using Innovative Digital Technology: A "Real World" Randomized Community Trial” ($443,700), 2020-2024

Special projects

When do workarounds help or hurt patient outcomes? The moderating role of operational failures

Hospital providers often use workarounds to circumvent processes so that patients can receive care. Workarounds in response to operational failures let care to continue and therefore may be indicative of workers' commitment. On the other hand, workarounds in the absence of operational failures may signal an ineffective approach associated with lower quality of care and worse patient outcomes. 

Working closely with healthcare providers, we developed a survey to measure workaround behaviours and operational failures on medical/surgical units. We surveyed over 4,000 nurses from 63 hospitals throughout the United States. We matched this data with audit data on the incidence of pressure injuries among over 21,000 patients on 262 nursing units in 56 survey hospitals. 

Hospital-acquired pressure injuries are a significant risk to patient health and hospital costs. We do not find support for our hypothesis that workarounds are associated with a higher rate of hospital-acquired pressure injuries. However, when we take into account the moderating role of operational failures on the relationship between workarounds and pressure injuries, we find significant results. When nursing units have lower levels of operational failures, workarounds are associated with higher rates of hospital-acquired pressure injuries. Our results provide evidence that workarounds may be associated with negative patient outcomes, if they stem from a process avoiding approach. A process-focused approach can achieve the best results by reducing both operational failures and workarounds.