Why Sarah Henrickson Parker returned to Roanoke
September 18, 2021
Sarah Henrickson Parker describes herself as a bit restless by nature, so she always anticipated leaving her hometown of Salem to explore the world beyond it.
After earning a diploma from Salem High School, she headed off to college in Ohio, got a master’s degree in the Washington, D.C., area, worked at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, pursued her Ph.D. in Scotland and then returned to the nation’s capital to work in the health system there for a few years.
Henrickson Parker, 39, said when she was growing up, returning to Salem to settle down was not in her plans.
“I actively fought against that notion,” she said.
But becoming a parent changed things. Henrickson Parker and her husband wanted to raise their children near family. Hers is deeply rooted in Salem, with a father who served as the Roanoke College chaplain for upward of 30 years and grandparents who ran the former Lutheran Children’s Home.
“We kind of did that thing that I think a lot of folks who are having kids do, which is you get out your compass and you say, ‘My family lives here. What’s my radius around that particular point?’” she said.
So Henrickson Parker reached out to the executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute — which her family had mentioned to her on more than one occasion — and was invited to visit next time she was in town. Checking out the institute and the medical school, she began to feel excited.
“Folks are thinking differently and folks are pushing the envelope in terms of both science and then how do we translate that to bedside care for patients, which is really my bread and butter,” said Henrickson Parker, who studies human factors in health care delivery.
She realized the Roanoke Valley offered not just professional opportunities and proximity to family, but the other things she valued, such as a thriving arts scene — her husband is a musician, and Henrickson Parker does improv comedy — and easy access to the outdoors.
So Henrickson Parker returned to the region in 2015, where she and her husband are raising their three young children. She holds positions with the biomedical institute, the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Carilion Clinic.