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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Faculty Profile: Richard Gershon, PhD, Research Associate Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Medical Social Sciences

Richard Gershon, PhD

He has served as an executive for numerous companies and as a consultant for corporations like Microsoft, yet Richard Gershon, PhD, research associate professor and vice chair in the Feinberg School of Medicine Department of Medical Social Sciences, has always managed to find his way back to Northwestern.

After all, Gershon earned three degrees from Northwestern University and has held faculty appointments here since 1988. He also taught in the Medill School of Journalism, and now teaches in the medical school and in the School of Continuing Studies. He’s also an adjunct professor in the Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences Department of Psychology. Given his Northwestern background, it’s no surprise that Gershon now shares his expertise with Feinberg’s newly developed Department of Medical Social Sciences.

What are your research interests?
My primary interest is in the exploration of the intersection of assessment and technology across the full range of human behavior and function.

Most of my work has focused on the application of Item Response Theory (IRT) in both individualized and large scale assessments, typically utilizing computerized adaptive testing (CAT) to greatly shorten assessments and increase accuracy. I have developed item banks and CAT for educational, clinical, and health applications. I often analyze large datasets to understand the improvements offered by various assessment modalities.

I am particularly interested in the prospect of working with the data produced by the Northwestern University Biomedical Informatics Center (NUBIC) Electronic Data Warehouse to further explore the seemingly unlimited number of treatment and outcome variables that are tracked for every patient.

What research projects are you currently pursuing?
Right now, I am the primary investigator (PI) on two major projects.

The NIH Neurological Toolbox for Behavior and Function is a five-year contract to design a battery of tests across the broad domains of cognition, motor, emotional health, and sensory function. These include vision, audition, vestibular balance, somatosensation, taste, and olfaction. We have assembled a team of 235 scientists from around the world to create a series of very brief, cutting edge assessments for use in longitudinal and clinical trials, and I believe ultimately for use in direct clinical work as well.

I am also the PI for the NIH Roadmap Patient Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) Technical Center. Our development team is responsible for the creation and support of online and standalone systems to deliver patient reported outcomes measures for hundreds of NIH-sponsored researchers.

For both Toolbox and PROMIS, we have access to datasets which enable our teams to have improved computerized algorithms used in assessment and to explore how patients and healthy individuals respond to various assessment modalities. Additionally, I am an active co-investigator in a National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) sponsored project, “Quality of Life Outcomes in Neurological Disorders,” designed to create patient reported outcomes measures specifically targeted at patients with neurological disorders. I also contribute to numerous university and hospital projects and serve as a member of the NUBIC Steering Committee.

What brought you to the Feinberg School of Medicine?
Earlier this year, I was offered the opportunity to move my research to Feinberg full-time. I was impressed by the dedication to research and the opportunities to bring theoretical research into the practical world through potential working relationships across the medical school, Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Northwestern Memorial Faculty Foundation. I was swayed by an environment which enables research to take advantage of rapid changes in technology. I respected that at Feinberg people did not simply talk about “someday” utilizing enterprise-wide EMRs for research, but they had done it and were actively providing access to researchers to directly impact clinical care. Finally, I looked forward to working with David Cella and his vision to build the newly established Department of Medical Social Sciences into a cross-campus, interdisciplinary resource.

Richard Gershon is available via e-mail at