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Massey researcher studies novel interventions to improve psychosocial and health outcomes for pediatric cancer patients

May 17, 2018


Massey researcher Jennifer Rohan, Ph.D., L.C.P., investigates innovative interventions to improve medication adherence, self-management of chronic illness, psychological functioning and overall health outcomes for pediatric patients diagnosed with cancer and other blood diseases.

She joined VCU Massey Cancer Center as a member of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program in 2017 and is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the VCU School of Medicine.

Rohan is interested in the development and evaluation of innovative technologies for objectively measuring medication adherence, self-management, psychosocial variables and health outcomes of pediatric patients diagnosed with hematological cancers and conditions. These technologies include electronic monitors and mood assessments, smartphone apps, mHealth apps, pharmacological assays, among others.

She received an Institutional Research Grant from the American Cancer Society to research and develop strategies to improve pediatric cancer patients’ (ages 2 to 19) adherence to oral medication. This study is currently in the data collection phase.

With more than a decade of pediatric cancer research experience, Rohan emphasizes that more research is needed with regard to psychosocial interventions for terminally ill patients, a population that is often difficult for clinicians and researchers to approach for research participation.

“Our terminally ill patients are just as important as our survivors, and we are in desperate need of evidence-based interventions to support this patient population. I will be working hard to figure out how to best integrate this cohort of patients and their families into our research studies,” Rohan said.

Rohan is also the director of psychosocial clinical care and research in the Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. In this position, funded by the ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation, Rohan works to ensure that all pediatric hematology-oncology/stem cell transplant patients and their family members have a psychosocial care available to them.

“It is rewarding to know that I have played a part in helping our patients and their families cope with a chronic or terminal illness. A smile from a child, parent or sibling makes my job and the long hours all worth it,” she said.

As the previous research lab manager in the Center for Treatment Adherence and Self-Management at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the University of Cincinnati, Rohan oversaw a study examining the impact of a family-centered problem-solving intervention on medication adherence for patients with pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia and lymphoblastic lymphoma.

“Hearing patients and families tell stories about the psychosocial challenges related to cancer treatment shaped my professional career trajectory. There was a passion and interest that sparked within me that I never knew existed prior to this work,” Rohan said. “I always knew I wanted to be in the health care industry, and I decided that being a health psychologist would be the best fit for me, but engaging in this experience is where I found my true calling as a clinical researcher and pediatric psychologist.”

Born and raised in Ohio, Rohan earned a master’s degree in clinical psychology from the University of Dayton and later a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Cincinnati. She then completed a psychology internship and post-doctoral fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Prior to joining VCU, Rohan was an assistant professor of psychology and a staff psychologist at the Boston Children’s Hospital.

Rohan considers Dennis Drotar, Ph.D., “one of the founding fathers of pediatric psychology” and said that his mentorship and friendship while she was at the University of Cincinnati established a strong foundation for her career as a clinical researcher, pediatric psychologist, leader and future mentor. Even after he had entered hospice ill with pancreatic cancer, he still took the time to call Rohan to offer his support before her interview at VCU.

“That was our last phone call. He will be greatly missed, but his spirit, energy and commitment to the field of pediatric cancer will certainly live on in my work,” Rohan said.

She has published 33 articles in peer-reviewed journals, including Clinical Practice in Pediatric Psychology and the Journal of Pediatric Psychology, and she co-authored two scholarly book chapters. She is a member of the American Psychological Association and the American Psychosocial Oncology Society.

Rohan lives with her husband in downtown Richmond. Together they enjoy living in a bigger, but manageable, city close to both the mountains and the ocean, and they plan to go camping this summer. Rohan has two step-children and two grandkids, who bring great joy and love to her and her husband’s lives.

Written by: Blake Belden

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