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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Department of Medical Social Sciences
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Health Equity Research Programs

Browse below to learn about the work our scientists are doing within the field of health equity.

 Michelle Birkett, PhD, Research Program

Birkett’s CONNECT Program works to understand the complex social and contextual drivers of health disparities in marginalized populations, particularly sexual and gender minority youth. 

Research Description

Birkett directs the CONNECT Complex Systems and Health Disparities Research Program within the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing. Her research uses network and quantitative methodologies to understand the social contextual influence of stigma on the health and well-being of marginalized populations and, in particular, sexual and gender minority youth. This work is influenced by a multilevel perspective of health that considers direct and indirect influences of various levels of the social and physical environment. This approach to understanding health underlies her interest in network data and her commitment to conducting research that leads to social change at multiple levels of society to eliminate health disparities. Birkett has led multiple NIH-funded projects. She is the recipient of a NIH Career Development Award focused on understanding network, multilevel and contextual influences on racial disparities in HIV within young men who have sex with men. She also directs Network Canvas, a software development project that seeks to simplify the collection and streamline the management of social data, thereby allowing health investigators to assess more nuanced associations between social contextual factors and disease. She is a member of the Executive Committee of the Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems and is a member of the New Voices initiative at the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, where she advocates for and supports the work of diverse voices in research, policy and practice.

For more information, see Birkett's faculty profile.

Publications

See Birkett’s publications on PubMed.

Contact

birkett@northwestern.edu
312-503-5338

Program Staff

Patrick Janulis, PhD
Associate Director, CONNECT Program
312-503-3616

Bálint Néray, PhD
Postdoctoral Scholar
312-503-5457

Kate Banner, MA
Project Manager
312-503-5338

Joshua Melville, M.Sc.
Lead Developer

Dylan Felt
Data Assistant Associate
312-503-3799

 Elizabeth A. Hahn Research Program

Hahn’s program studies patient-centered outcomes, with a focus on underserved populations, health literacy and the design and use of health information technology for people with diverse literacy, language and computer skills.

Research Description

The overarching goals of this program are to eliminate barriers that lead to health disparities by developing, testing and implementing interventions focused on health literacy and cultural competence. Health literacy is “the degree to which individuals can obtain, process and understand the basic health information and services they need to make appropriate health decisions.” It represents a constellation of skills to perform health-related tasks, including the ability to read and write (print literacy), use quantitative information (numeracy), speak and listen effectively (oral literacy) and obtain information (navigation skills). Health literacy may be significantly worse than functional (day-to-day) literacy because of the unfamiliar context and vocabulary of the healthcare system. There is national recognition that low literacy creates barriers to healthcare and is associated with poorer health outcomes, yet literacy skills are rarely assessed by healthcare providers, and low-literate patients are often uncomfortable disclosing their reading deficiencies. A variety of interventions designed to address the challenges of low health literacy have reported improvements in comprehension of health information, and some have shown improvements in health outcomes. A limitation of this field is that few intervention studies have measured health literacy in Spanish-speaking participants. Hahn’s research includes development of novel interventions for diverse populations and improving the accessibility of survey administration platforms, patient educational information and disease self-management tools. This includes development of the “Talking Touchscreen”/”Pantalla Parlanchina” as a novel multimedia method for questionnaire administration and development of a bilingual multimedia measure of health literacy: Health Literacy Assessment Using Talking Touchscreen Technology (Health LiTT).

For more information, see Hahn's faculty profile or visit the Hahn Research Program website

Publications

See Hahn’s publications on PubMed.

Contact

e-hahn@northwestern.edu
312-503-9804

Program Staff

Sarah K. Buono
Senior Research Study Coordinator
312-503-3445

Kathleen Swantek
Media Technician
312-503-3422

 Lisa Hirschhorn, MD, MPH, Research Program

Hirschhorn’s program studies quality and outcomes of health care in the United States and globally.

Research Description

Hirschhorn’s academic work has focused on understanding and improving disparities in quality and outcomes of healthcare in the United States and globally. This work has ranged from quality of care for women with HIV in the U.S. to neonatal mortality reduction in Rwanda and improving maternal care in India. As an implementation and improvement scientist, Hirschhorn has worked to develop novel approaches to using mixed methods to better understand these gaps and leverage the use of routine health information and more efficient measurement strategies. Hirschhorn is also working to increase the effectiveness of monitoring and evaluation, focusing on routine health information system information to drive evidence-based decision-making, working with organizations such as the Doris Duke Charitable foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Health Organization.

For more information, see Hirschhorn's faculty profile.

Publications

See Hirschhorn’s publications on PubMed.

Contact

lisa.hirschhorn@northwestern.edu
312-503-1797 or 617-504-5794

 Patrick Francis Janulis, PhD, Research Program

Janulis’ program uses data science and network analysis to understand the intersection of HIV, drug use and LGBTQ health.

Research Description

Janulis’ research examines the intersection of HIV, drug use and LGBTQ health. His early work focused on the use of latent variable modeling to improve the measurement of HIV risk behavior and understanding variation in risk behavior across different environments and social circumstances. More recently, his work has focused on leveraging network and data science approaches to better understand the spread of HIV and other STIs. This work includes an emphasis on racial disparities and the development of methods to improve our ability to understand and counteract these disparities.

For more information, see Janulis' faculty profile.

Publications

See Janulis’ publications on PubMed.

Contact

patrick.janulis@northwestern.edu
312-503-3616

 

 Rebecca Johnson, PhD, Research Program

Johnson’s program studies the engagement of non-traditional stakeholders in health research design and implementation (faith-based community organizations, elders and community-based support networks).

Research Description

Johnson is a social gerontologist with interests in the lived experiences of older people and the places where older people are aging. She was PI for the baseline assessment of the age friendliness of the City of Chicago. Her current work focuses on building the capacity of non-usual stakeholders to engage with health research and investigators and is funded by PCORI’s Eugene Washington Award. Johnson leads the HAPEER project (Home Care Aides Patient Centered Education and Engagement), engages with faith-based communities in a Train the Trainer program of research engagement and contributes to the Bureau of Sages. She is also a partner with Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging delivering the qualitative component of the Age Well Study, a first of its kind five-year analysis of the health benefits of living in a Life Plan Community.

Johnson recently joined the ARCC staff as Research Alliance Liaison. In her role, Johnson will serve as a member of ARCC's senior leadership team and support ARCCs work on the science of community engagement, training and evaluation.

For more information, see Johnson's faculty profile.

Publications

See Johnson’s publications on PubMed.

Contact

rebecca.johnson@northwestern.edu
312-503-2276

 Brian Mustanski, PhD, Research Program

Mustanski’s program studies the mental and behavioral health of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, with a particular focus on youth.

Research Description

The majority of his research focuses on the health and development of LGBT youth and the application of new media and technology to sexual health promotion and HIV prevention. Mustanski’s work spans the translational spectrum and includes epidemiological studies, longitudinal cohort studies focused on developmental trajectories and rick/protective mechanism, the development and testing of HIV interventions and dissemination/implementation science.

Mustanski leads a large translational research program of HIV and LGBT health projects. These include studies of the ethics of conducting LGBT health research with adolescents (funded by the National Institute of Minority Health Disparities) and interventions to prevent HIV among young gay/bisexual men (funded by the National institute of Mental Health and National Institute on Drug Abuse). He is currently leading a large-scale study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse to understand the interplay between biology, romantic relationships, networks and neighborhoods in explaining the epidemic of HIV among young gay/bisexual men.

For more information, see Mustanski's faculty profile or the LGBT Health and Development Program website.

Publications

See Mustanski’s publications on PubMed.

Contact

brian@northwestern.edu
312-503-6509

 Michael Newcomb, PhD, Research Program

Newcomb’s program studies health disparities affecting LGBTQ youth (including HIV, substance use and mental health), with an emphasis on how romantic relationships can be utilized to optimize health outcomes.

Research Description

Newcomb’s research program focuses on health disparities that impact various LGBTQ youth populations, particularly in the areas of HIV/AIDS, alcohol and drug use and mental health problems. His work emphasizes the interpersonal contexts that influence health outcomes, including romantic relationships and families. Newcomb has received multiple grants as PI from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He is currently conducting two randomized controlled trials evaluating the efficacy of the 2GETHER program — a relationship education and HIV prevention program for young male couples. The first trial is an attention-matched RCT implemented locally in Chicago, which is funded by an R01 from NIAAA. He is also the recipient of an Avenir Young Innovator Award (DP2) from NIDA, through which he is conducting a comparative effectiveness trial of 2GETHER implemented nationally via videoconferencing technology. Related to his program’s focus on interpersonal relationships, Newcomb is site PI of an NIH-funded longitudinal cohort examining intimate partner violence among sexual and gender minority youth assigned female at birth. Newcomb’s program also focuses on emerging HIV prevention technologies, including the biomedical prevention approaches of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and treatment as prevention (TasP). He is currently PI (with Brian Mustanski) of an R01 from NIMHD that aims to characterize racial disparities in PrEP adherence and usage over time through mixed-methods research. Finally, he is co-investigator on several projects of his primary collaborator, Mustanski, focused on longitudinal methods and adaptive RCT designs.

For more information, see Newcomb’s faculty profile or the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing website.

Publications

See Newcomb’s publications on PubMed.

Contact

newcomb@northwestern.edu
312-503-0702

Program Staff

Ricky Hill, PhD
Research Associate – 2GETHER Study
312-503-3610

Jim Carey, MPH
Research Project Coordinator – 2GETHER Study
312-503-2761

Christina Dyar, PhD
Research Assistant Professor and Project Director – FAB400 Study
312-503-3793

Brittany Appleton
Program Assistant
312-503-6522

 Gregory Phillips II, PhD, Research Program

Phillips is the director of the EDIT (Evaluation, Data Integration and Technical Assistance) Research Program within the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing. Under Phillips’ guidance, the EDIT Program works to cultivate a learning community to improve the health and wellbeing of Sexual and Gender Minority populations in Chicago and beyond.

Research Description

Phillips is a trained epidemiologist and LGBT health scholar with expertise in infectious disease, health disparity research and program evaluation. His research includes working with pooled data from large, national health surveys, such as the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, to identify and explain inequities in health among sexual and gender minority individuals. He also uses complex network and contextual data to describe patterns of HIV risk and protective factors in marginalized populations. Phillips is the PI of the Evaluation Center, a Northwestern-based initiative funded by the Chicago Department of Public Health to support the work of Chicago-based organizations seeking to address the HIV epidemic and other health disparities in vulnerable local communities. Phillips currently serves as co-chair of the Research, Evaluation and Data Committee for the Getting to Zero Illinois program where he contributes his expertise to ending the HIV epidemic in Illinois by 2030. In addition, Phillips is a collaborator on a number of other projects including working as one of two PIs on the Network Canvas project where he is helping to develop novel technology for the collection of complex social contextual data.

For more information, see Phillips’ faculty profile or the EDIT Research Program Website. You can also learn more about the Evaluation Center’s work here and about the Network Canvas software suite.

Publications

See Phillips’ publications on PubMed.

Contact

glp2@northwestern.edu
312-503-3447

Program Staff

Lauren Beach, JD, PhD
Associate Director, EDIT Program
312-503-5427

Peter Lindeman, MA
Project Coordinator, Evaluation Center
312-503-5935

Blair Turner, MPH
Data Manager, YRBS Project
312-503-3647

Dylan Felt
Data Assistant Associate
312-503-3799

Rachel Marro
Data Assistant Associate
312-503-0726

 Betina Yanez, PhD, Research Program

Yanez’s program focuses on cancer control and survivorship. Her work bridges behavioral medicine, health equity and precision medicine to research improvements in the patient-centered and clinical outcomes of individuals diagnosed with cancer.

Research Description

Yanez’s research program is characterized by work focused on three major public health problems facing cancer patients and survivors: (a) adherence to cancer treatments; (b) outcomes among racial/ethnic minority cancer survivors; and (c) reach and scalability of evidence-based interventions for oncology patients that can be delivered via technology platforms. An emerging area of her work involves patient-centered precision oncology. Her ongoing work in this area aims to develop a patient-centered intervention that is feasible, scalable and embedded within a healthcare delivery system for patients receiving individualized cancer treatment based on genomic profiling.

For more information, see Yanez's faculty profile.

Publications

See Yanez’s publications on PubMed.

Contact

betina.yanez@northwestern.edu
312-503-5341

Program Staff

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