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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Student Q&A: Gayle Kricke, Health Sciences Integrated PhD Program

Gayle Kricke

Gayle Kricke, a third-year student in the Health Sciences Integrated PhD Program (HSIP), studies ways to improve the quality of end of life care for older adults.

Kricke completed her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan. She was also a geriatric fellow at the University of Michigan and earned her certification as a specialist in aging. She became interested in her research topic through her work as a social worker for the geriatric population. 


Where is your hometown?

I would call Clawson, Michigan my hometown. It’s a small suburb just north of Detroit. However, Chicago seems like my second home since I spent several years after high school hopping between Illinois and Michigan. I first moved to Evanston as an undergraduate at Northwestern, then went back to Michigan for my master’s, then returned to Chicago for a job. 

What are your research interests?

My primary research interest is defining, measuring and improving the quality of end of life care for older adults. Quality metrics help communicate the healthcare systems’ priorities, establish national care standards and motivate systemic improvements. However, end of life quality metrics are limited, particularly outside the hospice setting. I hope my research will create informative metrics that reflect what is important to people who are dying and their loved ones. 

What exciting projects are you working on?

Most recently, I worked in the laboratory of
Nicholas Soulakis, PhD, assistant professor of Preventive Medicine, examining how electronic health record (EHR) documentation can be used to make informative qualiand safety interventions. Our work identifies discrepancies between clinicians’ understanding of their workflows and documentation of the workflow in the EHR. The difference
between perception and documentation is important when planning improvement interventions because it reveals potential threats to quality and safety outcomes and identifies clinicians who may be overlooked in the clinical team. 

What attracted you to the PhD program? 

I was attracted to HSIP because it was new and flexible. As part of HSIP, I get to be a pioneer and shape how the program develops. As I get further in the program, I find myself asking questions that do not have answers yet, because I am the first person to ask them. I enjoy being involved in how those questions get answered for myself and for future students in HSIP.

What has been your best experience at Feinberg?

Having access to experts in any number of topics has been my best experience at Feinberg. From faculty to classmates to visiting lecturers, I find myself surrounded by people with knowledge and perspectives different from my own. Exposure to so many experts challenges me to think differently about what I think I know about my own work and opens doors to exciting collaborations. 

How would you describe the faculty at Feinberg?

Feinberg’s faculty and administrative staff are caring and eager to help students. HSIP is a developing program, so I often find myself needing to consult with faculty members and staff about what to do next. During my time at Feinberg, I have found everyone to be genuinely interested in students’ success, both now and in the future. 

What do you do in your free time?

Eat! My husband and I both enjoy trying new restaurants and we are lucky enough to live in a city with an impressive food scene. When I’m not working or eating, I enjoy playing the banjo. 

What are your plans for after graduation?

My plan after graduation is to continue being an advocate for older adults in the healthcare system. I see the gaps between people and settings: between patients and providers, between clinicians and academics and between hospitals and communities. I seek to fill these gaps. My background makes me uniquely prepared to serve as a translator. As a social worker, I witnessed the struggle older adults face in understanding the big words and complicated tasks healthcare throws at them. As a healthcare quality and patient safety investigator, I pick apart complex systems and study how to make them better. In whatever position I take after graduation, I hope to use my skills to make a difference for our community’s most vulnerable.

Connect with Gayle on LinkedIn.