University Scholar Carol Ferrans: measuring quality of life

Carol Ferrans, professor of biobehavioral health science, College of Nursing, 2013 University Scholar

Carol Ferrans developed the Qualify of Life Index, used in treatment of patients with cancer, cardiac disease and other chronic illnesses. Photo: Mark Mershon

The University Scholars Program, now in its 29th year, honors faculty members for superior research and teaching, along with great promise for future achievements. The award provides $10,000 a year for three years.

Patients around the world have better quality of life thanks to Carol Ferrans.

For more than 20 years, Ferrans has studied quality of life and minority issues in health care. She is best known for developing the Ferrans and Powers Quality of Life Index (QLI), a tool that uses importance ratings to weigh satisfaction responses, so that scores reflect contentment with the aspects of life valued by the individual.

The index, a tool for clinical practice and research, is used in cancer, cardiac disease and other chronic illnesses. It is the first choice for many states in documenting quality-of-life issues in cardiac rehabilitation programs. Available in 21 languages, it is used in more than 30 countries.

Nurses, physicians, psychologists, physical therapists and other health care professionals have published more than 200 studies using the QLI.

Ferran’s work addresses quality-of-life in cancer care, including long-term survivorship and end-of-life, early detection and treatment.

“Quality of life has become a required outcome variable for clinical trials,” said Mariann Piano, professor and head of biobehavioral health science.

“Carol’s research and activism in this area over the last 20 years have been instrumental in demonstrating to the National Institutes of Health and the world that quality of life needs to be a core outcome variable in all types of clinical trials.”

African American women are more likely than all other women to die from breast cancer, and Chicago has one of the largest disparities in breast cancer mortality in the nation — African American deaths are twice that of Caucasians.

Ferrans’ recent research identified a set of cultural beliefs contributing to this disparity. Data shows that these beliefs contributed significantly to longer delays in seeking diagnosis of a suspicious breast symptom, later stage of breast cancer at diagnosis and longer delays between diagnosis and the start of treatment.

Ferrans, co-director of the UIC Center of Excellence in Eliminating Health Disparities, developed a short film on DVD that has been demonstrated to change those attitudes about breast cancer. To date, the DVD has been distributed to more than 7,000 women in areas of Chicago that have the highest death rates from breast cancer.

Since receiving her first research grant in 1984, Ferrans has received more than $56 million in national funding. Her findings have been published in more than 70 scientific journals. She is a fellow in the American Academy of Nurses, the nursing profession’s highest honor.

“Carol’s not only an outstanding researcher, but a stellar mentor and educator,” said Terri Weaver, dean of the College of Nursing.

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