Susan Bodnar-Deren

Education & CV

PhD (Rutgers University)

Curriculum Vitae


Medical Sociology, Aging and the Life Course, End-of-Life and Postpartum/Maternal Health with a focus on the ways that macro social factors affect individual-level health, health behaviors, and psychosocial well-being.


I am a medical sociologist whose research focuses on the life course and social determinants of health and health behaviors, and the ways that macro social factors affect individual-level health and well-being. Broadly, my research interests take a life course perspective in the areas of environmental gerontology, applied sociology, health /illness, and social psychology all within medical sociology, but my work spans various sub-disciplines, including behavioral health, health disparities, and social policy.  I have a Ph.D. in Sociology from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and am currently an Assistant Professor of Sociology at VCU and an Affiliate Researcher at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Prior to coming to VCU, I was a postdoctoral fellow at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Excellence Fellow at the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers University.

Among the courses that I teach are: Medical Sociology (undergraduate and graduate), Sociology of Aging and the Life Course (undergrad and grad), Sociology of Mental Disorder, and Senior Seminar.

My research focuses on two distinct areas of the life course – maternal reproductive years and older age (and the end-of-life). In both areas of my research, the projects on which I am working seek to illuminate the links between individual and environmental factors that affect health beliefs and behaviors.  An example of my end-of-life work can be found in my paper, Perceived Burden, A Key to Understanding Advance Care Planning in Adults Nearing the End of Life.  It is a mixed methods examination of how patients’ functional limitations and their perceptions of being a burden to the self and others factored into the presence and content of advance care planning. I am currently working on a project that looks at intergenerational relationships and the psycho-social benefits that such have on both older adults and younger people (primarily elementary age and college students).

In terms of maternal health, as part of postdoctoral training at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine I am part of the NIMH funded MADE IT (Mothers Improving Depression through Empowerment) stages I and II randomized control trial team led by Dr. Elizabeth Howell. The team has implemented an RCT aimed at reducing depression symptoms in new mothers and we have conducted a series of studies that investigate the association between personal, environmental, and contextual factors and postpartum depressive symptoms in minority and majority women. We have published a number of papers on the effects of an intervention designed to decrease depressive symptomology and to extend breastfeeding duration among new mothers. We are also currently looking at the correlations between postpartum depression and postpartum suicidality and stigma associated with treatments for postpartum depression.

In addition to my academic work, I  have over a decade of experience in human and social services, serving most recently as a Social Services and Policy Consultant and Director of Senior Services for two large nonprofit agencies in New Jersey.  My professional experience includes a number of years in nonprofit management, state and local policy development, governmental task forces, program development and implementation in the areas of aging, mental health, and HIV/AIDS service delivery. These unique experiences have afforded me the opportunity to utilize applied applications of sociology to engage students in the discussions that are needed to drive an informed, multifaceted approach to the social sciences.

Select Publications

2014    Elizabeth Howell, Susan Bodnar-Deren, Amy Balbierez, Pablo Mora, and Howard Leventhal.  An Intervention To Reduce Postpartum Depressive Symptoms: A Randomized Controlled Trial Archives of Women’s Mental Health. 17:57-63. DOI 10.1007/s00737-013-0381-8.

2013    Elizabeth Howell, Susan Bodnar-Deren, Amy Balbierez, and Michael Paridus.  An Intervention to Extend Breastfeeding Among Black and Latina Postpartum Mothers. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Editor’s Choice October, 2013.

2013    Susan Bodnar-Deren and Deborah Carr. Death and dying, cross-national perspectives. Invited submission to The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Health and Society. January, 2013.

2013    Howard Leventhal, Jessica Yu, Susan Bodnar-Deren, and Elaine Leventhal. Cognitive Mechanisms in Common Sense Management of Cancer Risk: Do Patients Make Decisions? Invited submission in M. Diefenbach, S. Miller and C. Bowen (Eds).Health Psychology. In Press.