When Elizabeth Crouch finished her doctorate in policy studies, she didn’t even realize there was a research field devoted to rural health.
Now, 10 years later, the health services policy and management associate professor in the Arnold School of Public Health has been recognized by the National Rural Health Association with its 2023 Outstanding Researcher Award.
Crouch, who also directs USC’s Rural and Minority Health Research Center, was honored for her work examining health disparities among rural and other vulnerable populations — from adverse childhood experiences to Medicare utilization in older adults. She is particularly interested in the positive and adverse experiences faced by the more than 10 million children living in rural America.
As a child, she became familiar with rural issues while spending summers with family in Kentucky, where her grandfather was a veterinarian for large animals.
“I went on farm calls with him, so I was familiar with rural needs and rural challenges,” she says.
She brought that familiarity and interest with her to USC’s Rural and Minority Health Research Center eight years ago, where the mentorship she received from then-director Jan Probst allowed her to see the impact she could have as a rural health researcher.
“It's a very collaborative and positive research environment,” Crouch says. “We've got some great partners at the South Carolina Office of Rural Health, the National Rural Health Association, the Children’s Trust of South Carolina. There are nine research centers around the country working on these issues. Everyone is just really positive and gung-ho about improving health in rural America.”
Her background in economics and statistics and other policy work has helped her carve a path in the field. Among her grant-funded work was a study looking at the incidence of adverse childhood experiences with data collected through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
The focus on childhood issues and early childhood care are important, she says, because those experiences can carry over into adult physical and mental health. Understanding and intervening early is a way to prevent negative experiences from affecting people across their lifesp
“The rural kids have higher rates of poverty, which is an adverse experience because there are also other stresses that come along with that. But we also know there are a lot of social networks and positive and social supports in rural communities as well,” Crouch says. “It’s being able to tell that full story of what people are experiencing and what kids are experiencing. It gets into the social determinants of health — what do kids and families need in rural America? That’s my big passion.”