How I Work: Social Work Research Edition

How I Work: Social Work Research Edition is a new series of interviews the SSWR Doctoral Student Task Force will be sharing. This series and the questions have been inspired and adapted from Lifehacker's How I Work series (thank you Lifehacker!). We will be briefly interviewing individuals in the social work research arena about how they go about their work. We hope these interviews will give new insights to social work doctoral students and provide them a window into the lives of professors, researchers, deans, etc. We welcome recommendations of individuals to interview. Head over to the Facebook page to post your recommendations.


Dr. Heather Howard

Dr. Heather Howard

Heather Howard, PhD, MSW, LICSW
By: Kyle T. Ganson, LCSW, LICSW, Doctoral Student at Simmons College School of Social Work

Dr. Howard’s expertise and research focuses on gender-specific and trauma-informed care for women that reduces stigma and encourages health empowerment. Heather has been awarded several external foundation grants for clinical research involving women’s health issues and her publications emphasize the importance of shared decision-making for perinatal women who are opioid dependent. In addition, Heather was assistant professor at Wheelock College for the past five years. She taught advanced clinical practice with children and families, participatory action research, and substance use disorder prevention and treatment in healthcare systems. Also she was the coordinator of the Integrated Healthcare certificate. Heather has over 23 years of clinical experience in social work in healthcare. Her clinical expertise is the treatment of grief and loss, trauma, and prevention and treatment of substance use disorders at a Brown University-based hospital. Her peer-reviewed publications include areas of medicine, social work, and education, focusing primarily on health disparities and public health responses to maternal substance use. At Florida Atlantic University, Dr. Howard is currently an Assistant Professor at the Phyllis & Harvey Sandler School of Social Work.  

Academic Role & Institution: Assistant Professor, Florida Atlantic University, Phyllis & Harvey Sandler School of Social Work
Area(s) of Research Interest: Maternal substance use and opioid relapse and overdose prevention

Kyle: What is your background and how you became a social work researcher?

Dr. Howard: I was a social worker in health care for 23 years at Brown University affiliated hospitals. The need for more social workers to participate in research involving the social determinants of health propelled me to return to school after 15 years of practice. The opportunity to influence social work practice, healthcare, and drug policies through social work research is a major motivating factor for me. 

Kyle: What are your techniques for collaborating with colleagues?

Dr. Howard: I thrive on collaboration. The best outcomes are always achieved through authentic collaboration. Every person, including our research participants, has an area of expertise to contribute to the research project. Currently I am a principal investigator for a primary prevention intervention for pregnant and parenting women with opioid use disorders. Our research team consists of an Associate Professor in Criminal Justice, a professor in College of Business, Health Administration, and a biostatistician in the College of Medicine. Our community partners are the Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office, Palm Beach Health Care District, Southeast Behavioral Health, Department of Substance Use, and Mental Health, and several treatment facilities. Working with such a diverse team requires clear communication and respect for one another’s differences. 

Kyle: How do you recharge or take care of yourself outside of work?

Dr. Howard: One area I continue to research is the impact of systemic oppressive work environments and occupational burnout. We know that first responders and health care professionals have high occupational burnout. Often times systemic changes in work environments require extensive training and cultural shifts. However individual change does not. Hence I make it a priority to protect my physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual health. Running, positivity, growth, and faith. 

Kyle: Who is a researcher (in social work or another field) who inspires you? Why?

Dr. Howard: This is easy for me. I have been so blessed to have researchers inspire me throughout my education. During my undergraduate studies I was a research assistant for Dr. Gilda Morelli at Boston College in the School of Education. She was a developmental psychologist and also in expert in cultural psychology. I worked with her on a study exploring teacher responsiveness to preschoolers based on gender. During my graduate studies it was Dr. Karen Kayser and we worked on a study exploring marital dissatisfaction with couples that have experienced chronic illnesses. Finally Dr. Peter Maramaldi inspired me to persevere and pursue rigor and excellence in behavioral research and encouraged me to pursue interprofessional research. Without the support and authenticity of these 3 individuals I would not be a researcher today.

Kyle: What advice would you offer to social work doctoral students?

Dr. Howard: I make it a priority to not “give advice”. I have always preferred in my former clients and current students to have them discover the answers they are searching for by themselves. However I would say maintain a sense of humor through the process and do not be afraid of laughing at yourself too. 

“A keen sense of humor helps us to overlook the unbecoming, understand the unconventional, tolerate the unpleasant, overcome the unexpected, and outlast the unbearable.” – Billy Graham

Kyle: What are some projects or publications that you would like people to know about?

Dr. Howard: I am currently in the data collection phase of a study with the Suffolk House of Corrections evaluating a mutual aid support group for parents and following both fathers and mothers post-incarceration regarding their involvement with their children, recidivism, and communication with other caregivers involved with their children. Importantly, the preliminary data is suggesting the importance of treating opioid use disorder during incarceration to prevent accidental opioid overdoses. 

Kyle: Thanks Dr. Howard for participating in our How I Work series!