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Posted 03/30/2021

Translating Research into Practice

When you meet Julie Croff for the first time, it doesn’t take long to notice her enthusiasm and devotion for elevating humanity. She has made it her lifelong mission to understand the needs of underserved populations and develop collaborative solutions that improve pathways to healthier lives.

Her research spans nearly two decades of studies in public health, specifically focused on alcohol, drug use, addiction and prevention strategies. Now as the executive director of population and clinical research at the National Center for Wellness & Recovery, Julie M. Croff, Ph.D., MPH, is uniquely positioned to initiate clinical research that makes an immediate impact on our communities. “One of the things that most excites me about my role with NCWR is the ability to engage in clinical research and translate the research into practice through partnerships in the clinic and in community settings,” said Croff.

Extending beyond the academic environment, Croff believes the programs they develop create direct benefit to Oklahomans. “Our population health teams are in counties across the state, working with each population based on its risk, environment, and social connections, and targeting segments of the population that can most benefit from our programming,” said Croff.

Croff first developed a passion for public health as an undergraduate student, despite a focus of study in biology. Inspired to learn more about prevention activities, she went to Boston University School of Public Health where her work centered around policy development and programs to help individuals with substance use disorders transition into treatment and protect them from being infected with HIV and other diseases.

Through her volunteer work in HIV prevention and social programs for individuals infected with HIV, Croff garnered valuable perspective on stigma and prevention strategies. “Being a volunteer camp counselor was a powerful contributor to my personal mission and the trajectory of my work,” shared Croff. “The stigma associated with HIV-infection in the families of these children isolated them from engaging in typical childhood experiences. Camp was an opportunity for them to experience something ‘normal’.” Understanding the impact of stigma is a driving force for her work with individuals suffering from substance use disorders, because these patients and their families are confronted with stigma associated with their disease as well.

When asked who was instrumental along her academic path, Croff was quick to acknowledge countless colleagues, professors and mentors who were vital to her training. “What we do together is so much more powerful than what we do in isolation,” shared Croff.

She recalls conversations within her doctoral cohort, a diverse group whose interests included genomics/epigenomics, medication-assisted and behavioral treatments, behavioral and policy prevention, as well as built and social environments. “We learned from each other and from our faculty that the best solutions come from collaborations that bring together solutions at every ecological level.”

This synergistic approach to research underpins her work at NCWR. Croff is grateful to the leadership at OSU and NCWR for cultivating an infrastructure that supports clinical research and population health programs. She also recognizes many colleagues on the OSU Stillwater, Tulsa, and Center for Health Sciences campuses who are part of the collaborative joy of her work.

Prevention is a hallmark of Croff’s research, and the FAB (Food and Alcohol Behavior) studies are a particularly meaningful initiative for her. The goal of the FAB studies is to eliminate prenatal exposures by focusing on behaviors prior to pregnancy. “We cannot stop exposure from happening if we only focus on pregnant women,” explains Croff. “Our focus on behaviors and the time before pregnancy allows for meaningful interventions that improve subsequent pregnancy – and that’s the critical next step in the trajectory.”

Croff and her team have completed data collection on FAB and FAB:Me projects. With her next proposed project, FAB:ULOUS, Croff aims to prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) with the use of wearable biosensors and a just-in-time adaptive intervention application on participants phones.

Understanding the science and dynamics of family structures is instrumental in treating substance use disorders. Recently Croff had the opportunity to co-edit a book entitled, Family Resilience and Recovery from Opioids and Other Addictions. The book was a collaboration between NCWR and the OSU Center for Family Resilience and describes the relationship between family resilience and recovery from substance abuse. Croff hopes this book will improve the understanding of substance use disorders as a disease that affects the whole family, so that the whole family can be better supported through both prevention and recovery programming.

Deanne Vick | March 2021