Researchers at Cooper University Health Care and Cooper Medical School of Rowan University Earn Perfect Score on Federal Grant Application to Study Disparities in Doctor-Patient Relationships

Stephen Trzeciak, MD, MPH

Stephen Trzeciak, MD, MPH

Researchers at Cooper University Health Care and Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU) recently received a two-year grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to study disparities in doctor-patient relationships. Specifically, the study will use a scale that the researchers previously developed and validated to measure patients’ experience of compassion from doctors during clinic visits, and test for disparities in compassion by patient race and ethnicity as well as patient socioeconomic status.

The AHRQ’s scientific review group gave the grant application an impact score of 10, which is a perfect score, and it placed the Cooper/CMSRU grant in the top 1% of all research grant applications received.

“Compassion is foundational for high-quality healthcare. However, there is a paucity of research on disparities in compassionate care,” said Stephen Trzeciak, MD, MPH, chief of medicine at Cooper and professor and chair of medicine at CMSRU. Dr. Trzeciak is principal investigator on the grant, with Brian W. Roberts, MD, MSc, a physician-scientist in emergency medicine at Cooper and CMSRU, serving as study director.

“We will test the hypothesis that patients in certain populations such as patients who are Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, or have low socioeconomic status independent of race or ethnicity may be experiencing less compassion from clinicians compared to other patients, and we will test how this is associated with patient trust of the healthcare system,” Dr. Trzeciak said.

Brian W. Roberts, MD, MSc

Brian W. Roberts, MD, MSc

The overarching hypothesis of this line of research is that lower compassion from clinicians is associated with lower patient trust of the healthcare system, and higher risk of being lost to follow-up (i.e., not coming back for further care) which can be harmful to patients. The research will enroll 350 adult patients in doctors’ offices in urban, suburban, and rural practices to capture a wide range of diverse patients from different settings.

“Prior research supports that patients in populations where we observe health disparities may experience low quality relationships with physicians and other clinicians. This study will further test that premise, while also identifying specific clinician behaviors that communicate compassion (or lack of) from the patient perspective” Dr. Roberts said.

Drs. Trzeciak and Roberts are among the leading researchers in the field of compassion science. Compassion has always been considered a vital aspect of the “art of medicine,” but emerging research has shown that compassion also has measurable beneficial effects belonging in the “science of medicine.”

Dr. Trzeciak is the co-author, along with Anthony J. Mazzarelli, MD, JD, MBE, of two highly acclaimed books: Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence That Caring Makes a Difference (2019) and Wonder Drug: 7 Scientifically Proven Ways That Serving Others Is the Best Medicine for Yourself (2022).

Dr. Roberts has also made significant contributions to the field, including the development of the standardized method to measure compassion in clinical practice used in this research. Dr. Roberts has also led research focused on the relationship between clinician compassion and the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms among patients going through life-threatening medical emergencies.

“By studying and understanding different evidence-based aspects of compassion, the medical community will be positioned to provide better care for patients, as well as better training for the next generation of health care professionals,” Dr. Roberts said.

About Cooper University Health Care

Cooper University Health Care, with its MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper and affiliation with Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, is a leading academic health system. Cooper has nearly 10,000 team members including 1,600 nurses, and more than 900 employed physicians and 450 advanced practice providers. Cooper University Hospital has been recognized as a top-performing regional hospital by U.S. News & World Report’s 2023-2024 Best Hospitals annual survey and has an “A” Hospital Safety Grade from The Leapfrog Group, a national nonprofit upholding the standard of patient safety in hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers.

Cooper has revenues of more than $2 billion and has an “A-” rating from S&P Global Ratings and “A3” rating from Moody’s Investors Service. Cooper University Hospital is the only Level 1 Trauma Center in South Jersey and the busiest in the region.  Nearly two million patients are served annually at Cooper’s 663-bed flagship hospital, outpatient surgery center, three urgent care centers, and more than 100 ambulatory offices throughout the community. Cooper has been named as one of America’s Best Employers by Forbes for three consecutive years.

The Cooper Health Sciences campus in Camden, New Jersey, is home to Cooper University Hospital, MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper, Children’s Regional Hospital at Cooper, and Cooper Medical School of Rowan University. Visit to learn more.

About Cooper Medical School of Rowan University

A partnership between Rowan University and The Cooper Health System, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU) is the only four-year, M.D.-granting medical school in South Jersey. CMSRU is proudly mission-driven, focused on developing highly skilled and socially conscious physician leaders who value a patient-centered, team approach to health care. Its innovative curriculum provides students with small-group, self-directed learning with early and continuous patient care experiences, beginning the third week of medical school in the Cooper Rowan Clinic. CMSRU was named a “Best Grad School for Medicine-Primary Care 2023-2024” by U.S. News & World Report and was previously listed among the “Top 10 Most Competitive” medical schools for admission. In 2019, CMSRU was the recipient of the Spencer Foreman Award for Outstanding Community Engagement, one of the most prestigious awards presented by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

CMSRU’s parent organization, Rowan University, is a Carnegie-classified national doctoral research institution. It offers bachelor’s through doctoral programs to more than 18,500 students through its campuses in Glassboro, Camden and Stratford, New Jersey. Rowan is collaborating with regional leaders to create research and academic programs in health sciences. It has earned national recognition for innovation, commitment to high-quality, affordable education and developing public-private partnerships.


Media Contacts

Wendy A. Marano
Public Relations Manager
Cooper University Health Care
Office: 856.382.6463

Sharon Clark
Director, Marketing and Public Relations
Cooper Medical School of Rowan University
Office: 856.361.2825

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