Karen Lutfey Spencer

Headshot of Karen Spencer
Health and Behavioral Sciences

Office location:
North Classroom 3025B

Office hours:
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday By Appt via Calendly 

My research is on medical decision making, health disparities, patient-provider relationships, and patient adherence, studied from largely qualitative perspectives. I have examined these issues across various medical and psychiatric conditions such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, schizophrenia, and depression. My current work is focused on the social context of end-of-life decision making in the US, including the ways in which healthcare systems, payers, providers, and social networks influence individuals’ engagement with healthcare systems, including hospice.

Postdoctoral, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholars in Health Policy Research, University of California Berkeley & San Francisco, 2002-2004
Ph.D., Sociology, Indiana University, 2000
M.A., Sociology, Indiana University, 1995
B.A., Sociology/Anthropology, Gustavus Adolphus College, 1993

Tate, Alexandra and Karen Lutfey Spencer. In Press. “High Stakes Treatment Negotiations Gone Awry: The importance of interactions for understanding treatment advocacy and patient resistance.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Spencer, Karen Lutfey, Emily Hammad Mrig, and Elizabeth Gage Bouchard. 2023. “Unpacking Gatekeeping in Medical Institutions: A Case Study of Access to End-of-Life Patients.” Qualitative Research 23(2):486-500.

Spencer, Karen Lutfey, Emily Hammad Mrig, and Ariana Kobra Talaie. 2022. “The Many Faces of Medical Treatment Imperatives: Biopower and the Cultural Authority of Medicine in Late-Life Treatment Decisions in the U.S.” Sociology of Health and Illness 44: 781-797.

Nelson, Hyeyoung Oh and Karen Lutfey Spencer. 2021. “Sociological Contributions to Race and Health: Diversifying the Ontological and Methodological Agenda” Sociology of Health and Illness, epub online 8/26/2021  

Spencer, Karen Lutfey, Emily Hammad Mrig, and Ariana Kobra Talaie. 2020. “Does Palliative Care Utilization Facilitate Conversion to Hospice Care?  A Qualitative Study of the ‘Soft No.’” American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine.1-6.

Spencer, Karen Lutfey. 2018. “Transforming Patient Compliance Research in an Era of Biomedicalization.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 59(2): 170-84. doi: 10.1177/0022146518756860

Mrig, Emily Hammad and Karen Lutfey Spencer. 2018. “Political Economy of Hope as a Cultural Facet of Biomedicalization: A Qualitative Examination of Constraints to Hospice Utilization Among U.S. End-Stage Cancer Patients.” Social Science & Medicine 200: 107-113doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.01.033

Spencer, Karen Lutfey, Emily Hammad Mrig, Elizabeth Kessler and Daniel Matlock. 2017. “A Qualitative Investigation of Cross-Domain Influences on Medical Decision Making and the Importance of Social Context for Understanding Barriers to Hospice Use.” Journal of Applied Social Science 11(1):48-59.

Spencer, Karen Lutfey and Matthew Grace. 2016. "Social Foundations of Healthcare Inequality and Treatment Bias." Annual Review of Sociology 42: 101-120.

HBSC 7011: Theoretical Perspectives in Health and Behavioral Sciences I
HBSC 7111: Applications of the Health and Behavioral Sciences
PBHL 3051: Mental Illness & Society
PBHL 4040: Social Determinants of Health PBHL
PBHl 4099: Capstone Experience in Public Health​