Lauren Nicholas joined ISR in 2008 as a PSC post-doc right after receiving her Ph.D. from Columbia University. Last month, she also became an SRC Faculty Research Fellow, a new program that’s part of the Institute’s Next Generation Initiative designed to provide promising early-career scholars with mentoring and support.
A health economist, Nicholas is already contributing to policy issues. In an article published this month in the Archives of Surgery, and reported in the Wall Street Journal and other major media, Nicholas and co-authors from the U-M Medical Center analyzed whether the information provided by the government’s Hospital Compare website actually identifies hospitals with better outcomes for high-risk surgeries such as abdominal aortic aneurism repairs, aortic valve repairs, and coronary artery bypass grafts. They found it doesn’t, and Nicholas hopes to conduct additional research to identify factors that really are relevant to good outcomes.
Her interest in the quality of healthcare for older Americans started when she was in high school and witnessed a beloved grandmother’s slow and painful decline. “She moved from Florida to live with us in Brooklyn for a while, then as her health deteriorated, she moved through the whole continuum of eldercare possibilities, from assisted living through different levels of care in nursing homes. It was really expensive and nobody felt like it was a good situation, but there were no other choices.”
Nicholas wanted to pursue a career that would allow her to help older Americans and their families but she describes herself as “way too squeamish to go into medicine.” So she became a health economist instead.
“I came here because ISR is such an amazing place to work, and to get work done,” she says.
Her first mentor was ISR economist Helen Levy, and Nicholas is now working closely with David Weir, who directs the ISR Health & Retirement Study. In one current project, she is working with Weir and U-M M.D.s Ken Langa and Jack Iwashyna on an examination of cognitive functioning and end-of-life treatment intensity, using HRS data linked to Medicare treatment records. “It’s such a terrific experience, working with people who actually collect the data you’re analyzing,” she says.