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College of Nursing

Research Emphasis Areas

Vulnerable Populations

This core focuses on interventions and care strategies for at-risk populations to improve their health and well being. Our research addresses poverty and aging, violence and victimization, substance abuse, sexual orientation and gender identity, immigrant health, palliative care in rural and other underserved populations, and mental health problems in children.

Ronit Elk, Ph.D., returned to academia after a long career with the American Cancer Society, with the specific purpose of conducting research in a field she cares deeply about: Preventing and alleviating suffering at the end of life by developing and delivering culturally tailored palliative care programs in underserved populations.

Patients facing life-limiting illness often experience preventable suffering, resulting in tremendous strain on patients and caregivers. Palliative care programs have been proven to alleviate suffering, improve family satisfaction, enhance effectiveness of care, and save hospital costs. Yet in rural Southern US such programs are not available.

Dr. Elk's funded study will be the first to use a Community Based Participatory (CBPR) model to design and test a palliative care consult program for African American and White rural elders and their families, to be delivered via telemedicine at Beaufort Memorial Hospital in Beaufort SC. Key to the study is the involvement of African American and White community members at all study stages, including input from a Community Advisory Group (CAG), and from focus groups of community members whose loved one recently passed away. A culturally informed palliative care program for rural elders has the potential to reduce suffering and address the specific, and potentially diverse end of life care preferences of African American and White elders and their family members, and enhance family satisfaction. The use of CBPR increases the likelihood of program acceptability and adoption. If effective, this program can serve as an evidence-based model that can be adapted for use in other rural areas across the US.

Dr. Elk is also the co-author of Breast Cancer for Dummies (2003), and co-editor of Cancer Disparities: Causes and Evidence Based Solutions (2012) and Cancer in LGBT Community (2015.)


Beverly Baliko
Mary Boyd
Ronit Elk
Laura Hein
DeAnne Messias