Erika A. Waters, PhD, MPH

Associate Professor of Surgery, Division of Public Health Sciences, School of Medicine
cancer, decision making, disparities, e-health, health behavior, health communication, mental & behavioral health, risk factors & disease risk, tobacco use

Dr. Waters seeks to understand how people think about health risks and how those thoughts influence their health-related decisions and behavior.

To accomplish this, Dr. Waters explores the rich variety of cognitive, emotional, and social factors that make it difficult for people to use health risk information effectively. Understanding these inter-relationships will enable the development of health communication and behavior interventions that aim to reduce disparities in cancer morbidity and mortality.

Most of Dr. Waters’ research focuses on cancer prevention, but the principles derived from her work have broader applicability to other health conditions.

Currently, Dr. Waters has four primary research projects:

  1. Explore how cigarette smokers’ responses to information about the presence of a genetic basis for nicotine addiction affect their thoughts, emotions, and behavior related to smoking. Understanding differences in beliefs between African-American and Caucasian smokers, and between smokers with more and less formal education is a priority.
  2. Examine how Internet-based health risk calculators such as Your Disease Risk can be used to affect people’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, including their possible role in alleviating health disparities. This area of interest includes testing the efficacy of existing calculators and developing and testing novel risk communication strategies that aim to optimize communication efforts and thereby strengthen their effect on behavior. These novel strategies will be applicable to multiple communication modalities, channels, and platforms.
  3. Understand how, why, and under what circumstances people’s medical treatment decisions are influenced by the risk of experiencing medication side effects.
  4. Understand the causes and consequences of laypeople’s uncertainty about their risk of cancer and other diseases.

Dr. Waters also has a strong focus on community education and outreach. She has given several radio interviews, has spoken at cancer prevention and control fundraisers, and has assisted in disseminating the 8 Ways to Stay Healthy and Prevent Cancer via health fairs and employer-sponsored health events.