Dec. 14 2018

Kathleen Sikkema Named Chair of Sociomedical Sciences

Kathleen J. Sikkema will be the next chair of the Department of Sociomedical Sciences at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health. A clinical psychologist, Sikkema has led pioneering scholarship on HIV and mental health with wide-ranging impact, including in developing prevention programs and improving access to treatment in low-resource settings in the United States and internationally. She starts on July 1.

Sikkema is currently the Gosnell Family Professor of Global Health, and professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University. She is the founding director of the Global Mental Health Initiative at the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI) and leads the Social and Behavioral Sciences Core in Duke’s Center for AIDS Research. She also serves as the director of the Doctoral Scholars Program at DGHI, a training program in global health.

At Columbia Mailman, she will lead a new interdisciplinary, schoolwide program to address the syndemic nature of mental disorders, wherein social and economic contextual factors create and exacerbate the risk of disease progression.

“Throughout her esteemed career, Dr. Sikkema has championed ground-breaking interdisciplinary approaches to research and education, a commitment which will further collaborations and advance our School’s work to address cross-cutting issues of public and global health significance,” said Dean Linda P. Fried. “She has demonstrated that the social sciences are essential to identify priorities and develop strategies to address health inequities and assess the impact of interventions to reduce them.”

Scientific contributions by Sikkema have had significant implications for the allocation of HIV/AIDS prevention and intervention resources and led to a deeper understanding of the psychological correlates of transmission risk behavior. Her team’s interventions for HIV-infected adults with histories of childhood sexual abuse was named a CDC Best Evidence Intervention in 2008 and included in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices in 2011. Her early HIV prevention work in the U.S. during the 1990s resulted in the first community-level interventions for women and adolescents in low-income housing developments. 

In South Africa, where she has worked with local partners since 2001, her current research focuses on integrating mental health treatment into HIV primary care in Cape Town. Building on prior work with abused women, she recently completed a multi-method longitudinal study to inform the development of interventions related to gender, HIV risk, and alcohol use in South African women, including the development of a mental health intervention to reduce traumatic stress and improve care engagement among HIV-infected women. Previously, Sikkema undertook studies in Pretoria and Johannesburg related to women’s health and trauma, and she continues research focused on women and girls in Tanzania.

Sikkema has held faculty positions at Yale University and the Medical College of Wisconsin, and is an honorary professor at the University of Cape Town. She received her PhD in clinical psychology from Virginia Tech, MS from Illinois State University, and BA from Central College in Pella, Iowa, where she currently serves on the Board of Trustees.

Interim Chair of Sociomedical Sciences James Colgrove will continue in that role for the duration of the 2018-19 academic year, the 50th anniversary of the Department.