Kathleen Thomas, PhD


Kathleen Thomas is a behavioral economist conducting research to enrich the knowledge-base for ways to improve access to care for underserved populations with mental health needs, ranging from minority populations, to disability policy and childhood autism. She is deeply engaged in understanding how people live – what motivates them to be transactional around the most important things in their lives – family, health, well-being. She is recipient of the John Eisenberg Excellence in Mentorship Award from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Steven M Banks Award for Mentorship from the American Public Health Association.  She is a Senior Research Fellow at the Sheps Center for Health Services Research and Adjunct Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Thomas’ undergraduate degree in classical languages is from Pomona College. She holds an MPH from Yale University and a PhD in health economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Thomas has been successful in securing funding to support her research agenda from PCORI, RWJF, HRSA, NIH, CMS, CDC, AHRQ and NCDHHS as well as T32 research training support from AHRQ and NIMH. Her work focuses on decision-making around the use of health care to promote mental health and emotional well-being. It is grounded in mixed methods, using a variety of primary and secondary data sources including qualitative data, stated preferences, quantitative surveys of health and health behavior, claims and administrative records. Further, her work is guided by stakeholder input and seeks to expand the research and science of stakeholder engaged work.

She serves as chair, panel member and ad hoc reviewer for PCORI and HRSA study sections, as well as expert reviewer for a number of journals including Psychiatric Services and Pediatrics. Her work has been cited in the Wall Street Journal and The Guardian. Dr. Thomas is recipient of the Mental Health Section Award of the American Public Health Association; she serves on the Steering Committee of the Intersectional Council of the Association and is past Chair of the Mental Health Section.