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In Her Own Words: Get to Know Laura N. Gitlin, PhD

January 31, 2018

New CNHP Dean Laura N. Gitlin, PhDAs you may be aware, I am an applied sociologist by training.  I come to Drexel via a winding, fulfilling, professional journey involving majors in anthropology, social psychology and dance at Temple University. My first, real, professional position was that of a researcher at the Philadelphia Polisher Institute of the Philadelphia Geriatric Center (now the Abramson Jewish Life Center). I subsequently spent 24 years at Thomas Jefferson University in the College of Health Professions as professor and founding director of various research centers and Jefferson Elder Care, a service arm for our proven programs. For the past seven years, I served as the Isabel Hampton Robb Distinguished Professor and founding director of the Center for Innovative Care in Aging, at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. I am proud to say that in one way or another—through education, research or clinical practice initiatives - I have had the opportunity to collaborate with individuals from each of the professions represented in the College of Nursing and Health Professions.

Throughout my career, I have been committed to exploring the connections between the health and life space of vulnerable people and designing programs and strategies that can make life better. As a continuously funded NIH researcher for the past 35 years, I have examined the psychosocial and physical benefits of exercise for older adults, the impact of housing and home adaptations on daily functioning, the role of active engagement to address mood disorders, the role of families in the care of relatives and the impact of social determinants (including place, race/ethnicity and financial strain) on wellbeing.  

Within these broad concerns, my specific programs of research focus on developing, evaluating and implementing novel psycho-social-environmental interventions that modify intrinsic (e.g., coping strategies) and extrinsic (environmental) factors to address the complex health and wellness needs of older adults and their families. As more of us live longer and lead better lives, we have an important opportunity to help ensure that all individuals can fully participate in purposeful lives.

More specifically, with interprofessional teams I have developed close to 20 interventions to address complex health conditions such as the clinical symptoms of dementia, chronic disease management, functional decline, depression and social isolation and other challenges associated with aging in place and family caregiving. I am particularly interested in the intersection of health and housing and how to integrate a social determinants perspective in health care delivery. The interventions I have developed merge the social with the medical, are person- and family-centered, involve engagement and participation, and are cast within a broad social ecological lens in which behavior is viewed as a function of the person within a particular environment or life space. Many of my and my team’s proven programs in dementia care are being translated and implemented worldwide in various practice settings so my interests span from developing programs, testing programs, disseminating, scaling and implementing programs and most importantly, making sure the evidence is integrated in education programs.    

I have always been interested in, concerned with and connected to the education and training of health and human service professionals and supporting faculty in their respective roles. Providing the best evidence to students is an essential ingredient to changing clinical practice and widespread dissemination and assuring health equity. To that end, I have co-developed various educational initiatives to integrate use of best practices and evidence-based programs for a variety of health professional groups, co-authored various books to advance research and development of nurse and health professional faculty and co-developed various clinical practices to provide evidence-informed services.  

A more recent focus of my activities has been on impacting policy. As a strong focus of my work concerns dementia care, I recently became the chair of the Advisory Council for the National Alzheimer’s Disease Project Act that reports to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Council is responsible for generating yearly recommendations to advance a comprehensive national plan for dementia.