Who We Are

VIP Research Lab Vision

To improve health by facilitating equitable access and linkage to  primary care  for vulnerable populations in Canada and internationally, including Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) and High Income Countries (HICs).

VIP Research Lab Mission

We are committed to producing robust evidence for novel primary care and community-based interventions that improve primary care access and linkage for vulnerable populations and that reduce inappropriate health care utilization. We will continue to partner collaboratively with patient groups, stakeholders, and primary care providers to develop programs specific to unmet health needs of vulnerable populations. We aim to integrate research into mainstream health practice and the broader health system.

Dr. Gina Agarwal

Professor, Director of VIP Lab


Dr. Gina Agarwal describes herself as a Primary Care Epidemiologist and she is the Director of the Vulnerable individuals in Primary Care (VIP) Research Lab that focuses on improving health systems for vulnerable populations, ensuring people in need receive appropriate care at the right time and in the right place. Her work has driven health system change in Ontario. It has been published in influential journals including the Canadian Medical Association Journal and been featured by national media, including the CBC. She holds multiple major grants from the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) and Hamilton Health Sciences for her research on novel health risk-assessment programs for seniors in vulnerable areas and seniors’ buildings. Her work with community paramedicine has been recognized as the foundation for the standardized ‘wellness clinic’ provision offered by paramedics across many municipalities.

Gina is the Principal Investigator of the McMaster Community Paramedicine Research Team. The Community Paramedicine at Clinic (CP@clinic) program was inspired by her PhD work in which she pioneered community risk assessment for diabetes and links to her involvement with other CHAP-like research programs in the South Asian Community (C-ChAMP). She is also the lead of the CHAP-Philippines research program, and has an avid interest in Global Health Research. She co-leads the UK-Canada Emergency calls Data analysis and GEospatial mapping (EDGE) Consortium, working with a team at the University of Lincoln on mapping healthcare usage and SES. She has also worked extensively in social housing, trying to improve the health of this vulnerable population while also studying healthcare usage patterns. Gina is also the recipient of a McMaster University Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact faculty award for Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Indigenous reconciliation (JEDI-IR), recognizing the impact of her work in vulnerable populations.

An academic general practitioner who trained and worked in England since the early 90’s, Gina joined the McMaster Department of Family Medicine in 2000. She works as a family physician with a busy family practice at the McMaster Family Practice (MFP) where she is deeply involved in training family medicine residents.

Her research experience started in the UK as a fellow with the Imperial College School of Medicine where she developed and worked on the National Survey of Diabetes Care for the British Diabetes Association. Since moving to Canada, she has been the recipient of many research grants and held research fellowships with CIHR and Diabetes Canada. Her PhD in Epidemiology was awarded the Faculty of Health Sciences Graduate Program Outstanding Thesis Award by McMaster University. She is one of a few active practicing family physicians who also holds a PhD.

She worked extensively with the Public Health Agency of Canada around the development and validation of the CANRISK diabetes scoring tool. She received an Award of Excellence from the College of Family Physicians of Canada in 2016 and CIHR selected her as one of Canada’s 150 Researchers. Gina was presented the prestigious Mid-Career Researcher Award from the North American Primary Care Research Group (NAPCRG) in November 2018.

Gina regularly supervises undergraduate, masters and doctoral students. Her students have been successful in obtaining research grants and have won McMaster University Health Sciences Quality Assurance Awards and Ontario College of Family Physicians Resident Research Prizes. In 2017, she was recognized for her excellence in student supervision by the McMaster University Department of Health Research Methodology, Evidence and Impact.

Francine Marzanek

Francine Marzanek

McMaster University

Francine Marzanek has worked in the Department of Family Medicine since 2009. Prior to this, she worked in public health and education for over 10 years with a focus on heart health and population based community health promotion strategies. As a Research Coordinator, she has been involved with the planning, implementation and scaling of the CP@clinic Program, as well as other Community Paramedicine Research projects. Francine has research interests related to cardiovascular health promotion and chronic disease prevention in the community and running a marathon in the future.
Ric Angeles Photo

Ric Angeles

RN (Philippines), MD (Philippines), MPH, MHPEd, PhD

Ric was a physician in the Philippines, Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies in a University Medical School, and a public health officer (Epidemiology/Environmental Health) with 7 years of teaching (medical school and graduate school) and public health experience. He has a strong background in public/social health research. He has worked in the Department of Family Medicine since 2009 starting as a Research Coordinator/PhD student/Quality Assurance tutor transitioning to a Research Associate/Asst. Professor (part-time) after completing his PhD in Health Research Methodologies at McMaster University.

As a Research Associate/Asst. Professor (part time), Ric has been involved with the Community Paramedicine research projects, Cardiovascular Health Awareness Program (CHAP) cluster of research (specifically C-ChAMP, CHAP-Philippines, CHAP-York), Health Links, and other small research projects as a research staff, Co-I, or Co-PI.

Melissa Pirrie

Melissa Pirrie

BSc, BEd, MA, PhD

Melissa Pirrie is a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Vulnerable Individuals in Primary Care (VIP) Research Lab, supervised by Dr. Gina Agarwal. Melissa Pirrie has worked in health research since 2005, starting as an undergraduate research assistant at McMaster. After completing a BSc in Kinesiology and MA in Applied Health Sciences, she recently completed a PhD in Health Studies and Gerontology (University of Waterloo). Melissa has held a CIHR Population Interventions for Chronic Disease Prevention (PICDP) training fellowship (2010-2012) and a CIHR Health System Impact Postdoctoral Fellowship (2021-2023). Her primary interests are social epidemiology, health inequity, multilevel analysis, and the individual, contextual, and policy factors that influence the health and aging of vulnerable populations.
Mikayla Plishka

Mikayla Plishka

BA, MSc Epidemiology

Mikayla started working as a Research Assistant with the VIP Research Lab in 2021. She completed an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Health Studies in 2017 at the University of Toronto and graduated with a Master's of Science in Epidemiology from the University of Guelph in 2020. She is interested in population health, and the prevalence and prevention of chronic diseases in vulnerable populations. 

As a research assistant, Mikayla is involved in a variety of projects including assisting with grant writing, developing knowledge translation materials, and tasks associated with the CP@clinic program

Christie Koester Photo

Christie Koester


Christie started working with the VIP Research Lab in 2022 as a Research Coordinator. Prior to this, she has had 10 years experience working as a research assistant in the Department of Family Medicine and the Department of Pathology. Her areas of interest are physical health and fitness in children, and health promotion among vulnerable populations.

Christie graduated from McMaster University in 2008, with an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology. She is involved in the CHAP-P, ECHEC, and the Social Housing Cohort studies within the VIP Research Lab.

Amelia Keenan Photo

Guneet Mahal


Guneet started working in the VIP Research Lab in 2023 as a Research Assistant. In 2022, she completed an Honours Bachelor of Science in Life Sciences at McMaster University, with a minor in French. Throughout her undergraduate degree, she gained experience working in paramedic service admnistration and community paramedicine. She is passionate about issues of public health and social inequities, especially with regards to older adults.

As a research assistant, she is involved in various projects such as creation of educational materials and knowledge translation projects, qualitative research, and research ethics applications.