Ph.D. students earn national recognition

Leah Bouchard

Leah Bouchard headshot
Leah Bouchard (Ph.D.'22/SW)

The National Rural Health Association selected Leah Bouchard for one of its prestigious fellowships in Fall 2021. Bouchard, who graduated with her Ph.D. degree in May 2022, has dedicated practice and research to serving communities and youth – particularly marginalized youth – dealing with substance misuse. 

“I’m excited to be a social worker in this space and to apply a social justice lens to the public health issues rural communities face, and to emphasize the issue of rural youth opioid use,” Bouchard says. “Particularly, I’m excited to spend time in the fellowship learning how to better advocate for youth belonging to marginalized populations within rural areas. 

“Often, marginalized youth are at greater risk for opioid and other substance misuse, and experience more severe consequences of misuse. I want my work to serve not just rural communities, but the youth who experience these health disparities more profoundly because of the intersection of their rural identity and other marginalized identities they may hold.

“During my time at VCU, I have sought to amplify rural voices and experiences through my research. I’m excited to provide a social work lens to this work while also learning from those serving as practitioners and healthcare providers in rural areas.”

Bouchard says rural communities have higher rates of substance misuse, incidence of overdose and greater frequency of opioid prescriptions than non-rural communities. “Rural communities have experienced the brunt of the opioid epidemic,” she says. “Rural community members are often unable to access the help they need when experiencing their own misuse or the misuse of someone in their family.”

Adolescents who have grown up in the opioid epidemic have seen its impact shape their community and create barriers and struggles they face into adulthood. “Adolescents are extraordinarily vulnerable to the impact of this epidemic, and this vulnerability is magnified for rural youth who hold other marginalized identities (e.g., rural youth of color, rural LGBTQ+ youth),” she says.

Matt Morgan

Matt Morgan headshot
Matt Morgan, Ph.D. student

Matt Morgan (B.S.’12, H&S; M.S.W.’15/SW), currently a second-year doctoral student, was one of 10 pre-dissertation fellows selected by the Association of Gerontological Education in Social Work. 

“I am incredibly honored,” he says. I’m very excited to meet other students in my cohort, as well as faculty experts, at the Gerontological Society of America conference.”

The benefits of the fellowship include a full-day of pre-conference training on navigating the dissertation process, writing for publication, teaching strategies and networking and the designation of an AGE-SW faculty mentor.

“These should be extremely beneficial and will supplement the Ph.D. curriculum,” he says. “Learning from, and receiving support from, more experienced academics will be invaluable.”

Morgan’s primary research interests are in hospice and end-of-life care, informal and formal caregiving, and loneliness and isolation among older adults. He plans to focus on the impact of COVID-19 on the hospice industry and on improving access to high-quality hospice care for historically marginalized communities.

“I am currently piloting a case study that will examine how a local, nonprofit hospice agency organized and provided care during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he says. “I plan to interview the agency administrators and conduct focus groups with clinicians to gain an understanding of how the organization navigated the pandemic and how patient care was affected and provided. 

“I hope to expand on this study for my dissertation, potentially with a larger quantitative study to assess the experiences of hospice professionals during the pandemic.”

Camie Tomlinson

Camie Tomlinson headshot
Camie Tomlinson, Ph.D. candidate

Camie Tomlinson, currently a Ph.D. candidate, received the American Psychological Association’s Division 37 Section on Maltreatment’s 2022 Dissertation Award, which funds her dissertation work. 

"I was very surprised and honored," Tomlinson says. "I was surprised because the Section on Child Maltreatment selects only one recipient each year, so I was honestly not expecting to be the one selected. I am very honored to have been chosen and to join the incredible list of past recipients of this award."

Tomlinson's dissertation is titled Comparing theoretical models of childhood adversity to understand psychological adjustment of child welfare-involved adolescents

"Receiving the award was helpful in sharing my dissertation topic/work with a broader audience since the division is a part of the broader American Psychological Association," she says. "There is amazing research being conducted across disciplines – such as social work and psychology – and my goal is to conduct interdisciplinary research moving forward. This award helps to highlight that potential and the current work being done to address child maltreatment." 

Her research focus is on examining the relationship between exposure to childhood adversity (such as child maltreatment) and mental health symptoms over time among adolescents (ages 11-17 years) involved with the child welfare system. She is also conducting a systematic review of the literature to examine what is currently known regarding racial/ethnic differences in the relationship between exposure to childhood adversity (like child maltreatment) and mental health for youth involved in the child welfare system.

"The findings of my dissertation may help to refine childhood adversity theory and inform child welfare practice and interventions to promote positive mental health outcomes for this population," says Tomlinson, who credits her dissertation committee and a team helping with her review, including Assistant Professor Jamie Cage, Ph.D., and two doctoral students at the University of South Carolina College of Social Work, Amanda Stafford McRell and Christian Gorchow.

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