In my research I use both demographic and qualitative methods to study how health and social policy replicate, worsen, or alleviate health inequities across the life course.



In my published work I have collaborated with scholars and practitioners to explore topics related to health and aging across disciplines. I worked on a team to evaluate the impact of a palliative care program (Kaufman et al. 2020; Kaufman et al. 2021) and later conducted interviews and analyzed qualitative data to ascertain how changes to WIC policy during the COVID-19 pandemic affected recipients (Barnes & Petry 2021). I have contributed two timely and pressing commentaries to reputable academic journals. The first addresses the epidemic of grief we are living through alongside the COVID-19 pandemic (Petry, Hughes, & Galanos 2021). The second describes the population of older adults serving as caregivers to their loved ones, in which we outline policies that could support these essential health care workers (Petry, Lara, & Boucher 2022). I recently contributed an a chapter summarizing and synthesizing existing research on US policy as it relates to population health titled "Policy, Inequity, and the Life Course in the US" to the Handbook of Health Inequalities Across the Life Course (Petry, 2023).


Medicaid and the Life Course


I focused my dissertation work on Medicaid policy, health inequities, and late life health and care needs. Because Medicaid is means-tested, this program offers a unique policy to explore the interconnected consequences of socioeconomic status, health, and other forms of marginalization in late life.

My first chapter, “'You've got a lot to prove': How Older Adults and their Families Navigate Medicaid and Long-Term Care in North Carolina.”, is a mixed-methods study, exploring how older adults become eligible for and apply for Medicaid. I conduct qualitative interviews with caregivers of older adults in long-term care (LTC) setting, as well as staff, to describe this process. I develop several hypotheses that I then test with a large dataset, the Health and Retirement Survey (HRS). In the second chapter, “State Policy Context and Medicaid Enrollment: Intersectional Consequences of Race, Sex, and Class”, I assess sociodemographic and health-related predictors of Medicaid enrollment after age 50. In the final chapter, Living and Dying with Public Health Insurance: Medicaid, Marginalization, and Life Expectancy", I use restricted data from the HRS to study when transitions in insurance status occur. I determine how prevalent Medicaid "churn" is across groups, and assess how long older adults can expect to live with distinct insurance types.

Current Projects

Cooperative Studies Program Epidemiology Center (CSPEC)-Durham

During my PhD, I was a research assistant to Dr. Elizabeth Gifford. Since graduating from Duke, I have continued to collaborate with Dr. Gifford, as well as the CSPEC team at the Durham VA Health Care System. In collaboration with biostatisticians, epidemiologists, social scientists, and clinicians, I have contributed to recent work modeling aging using trajectories of deficit accumulation based on both survey data (Petry et al. 2024) and health records (Thompson et al. 2024). Our ongoing projects include assessing the clinical implications of different patterns of symptoms contributing to Gulf War Illness (GWI) and other aspects of aging.

Sexual and Gender Minority Policy Context & Health

As a postdoctoral trainee at the Carolina Population Center (CPC), I am engaged in research examining LGBTQ+ health inequities. In my first project, I assess the relationship between sexual and gender minority policy context during adolescence and young adulthood with mental health outcomes in midlife. In another project, I bring together my research interests in bereavement with my expertise in health inequities. Using the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (Add Health), I explore how bereavement during young adulthood differentially affects mental and physical health outcomes among minoritized groups.

Future Directions


My dissertation answers many pressing questions about Medicaid policy, health, and late-life service use. However, it also presents additional directions for research. Medicaid coverage has become an increasingly relevant component of the social safety net in the US as the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted racial and class health disparities. In my future work I will explore how state-level differences in Medicaid policy implementation affect health and wellbeing across the lift course. In addition, I will examine how state-level policy contexts - not solely Medicaid, but also LGBTQ+ policy, housing policy, and more - shape individual and population health. I intend to continue using mixed methods approaches, combining qualitative studies with large, demographic ones to study the impacts that policies have on people, both individually, and at the population-level.