New Graduate Fellow to Study Smoking, Disparities, and COVID-19

UW-CTRI has hired Julie Kirsch (right) to be a new Primary Care Research Fellow. Kirsch will work on team science projects at UW-CTRI, including the Quit Line Disparities Study, while also developing her own research program with the mentorship of Associate Director of Research Dr. Danielle McCarthy. Kirsch is also interested in projects that utilize data from electronic health records to evaluate implementation and reach of smoking-cessation interventions.

Julie Kirsch
Julie Kirsch

She plans to study the Covid-19 pandemic and how it will impact disparities in smoking and health.

“Understanding the inequitable impacts of major social and economic events will lead to outreach programs and interventions that work more effectively for vulnerable individuals,” Kirsch said.

Her dissertation was about how economic and health disparities intertwine—specifically, on how the 2008 Great Recession contributed to race and socioeconomic status (SES) disparities in functional and cardiovascular health. She said the main findings were that lower SES and racial minorities experienced more economic stressors as a result of the Great Recession and that the Great Recession worsened race and SES disparities in functional and cardiovascular health.

“Further, psychosocial factors that are typically health-protective, including social support and psychological well-being were not found to be health protective among those especially hit hard by the Great Recession,” she said.

Kirsch won a New Investigator Award from the UW Madison Institute on Aging for her early work on her dissertation. Going forward, she’ll use that knowledge at UW-CTRI. “Reducing health disparities requires an integrative approach to better understand the interplay between socio-structural forces, stress exposure, and individual health vulnerability,” she said.

“I am delighted that Julie will be pursuing post-doctoral training with us,” McCarthy said. “I look forward to working with her and supporting her development as an independent scholar. Her program of research on psychosocial factors that contribute to health disparities is particularly important in this period of economic stress.”

Kirsch is excited to begin. “Smoking is a leading contributor to health disparities and so I wanted to further pursue research on tobacco use and gain more formal training from this amazing group of scientists who are experts in this field,” she said. “I was also drawn to UW-CTRI’s engagement with the Wisconsin community—thoughtful and rigorous approaches to clinical science aimed at reducing disparities in smoking and attempts to quit smoking.”

Last semester, she enjoyed teaching a course on adult development and aging for the UW Psychology Department. “The health implications of smoking came up in several lectures, and I was grateful for the resources available on the UW-CTRI website that I shared with my students. A lot of students were surprised by how widespread the impacts of smoking are on many diseases of aging, including dementia. Students also asked really important questions, like the long-term health implications of vaping in adolescence. We also discussed barriers to quitting smoking, such as stress and financial hardship. Overall, this experience further solidified my interests in tobacco research and intervention.”

Kirsch is a native of a small town in northern Minnesota called Two Harbors. “A lot of people remark how close it is to Canada, and I do have a pretty noticeable Minnesotan/Canadian accent. Also, I’m thrilled to spend at least two more years in Madison. Taking several-mile walks around lakes Mendota and Monona with my husband has made it possible to stay sane and grounded during this strange and stressful time.”