Susan Hickman, PhD

Susan Hickman, PhD

Community & Health Systems
Research in Palliative and End-of-Life Communication and Training (RESPECT) Center
Co-director, Research in Palliative and End-of-Life Communication and Training (RESPECT) Center

Contact Information

Phone: (317) 274-0032
Nursing E419, Indianapolis


Dr. Hickman is a clinical psychologist whose research program reflects her strong commitment to optimizing the quality of life for older adults in life’s final chapter through improved decision-making and communication about treatment preferences. A primary focus of her research is the POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) Program, a tool that facilitates communication about patient treatment preferences by documenting them in the form of actionable medical orders. Dr. Hickman was previously funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research (NR009784) to study the use of the POLST in 90 nursing facilities in Oregon, Wisconsin, and West Virginia. Her current work focuses on evaluating the quality of POLST decision-making. Additionally, Dr. Hickman is a co-investigator and the Palliative Care Core Leader on a CMS-funded project called OPTIMISTIC, which is designed to improve the quality of care and reduce avoidable hospitalizations in 19 area nursing facilities. Dr. Hickman's service activities include co-directing the RESPECT (Research in Palliative and End of Life Communication and Training) Center, funded under the IUPUI Signature Center Initiative, and co-chairing the Indiana Patient Preferences Coalition ( . She teaches Applied Ethics in the undergraduate BSN program and is a Senior Affiliate Faculty member in the IU Health Fairbanks Center for Medical Ethics. In 2015, she was awarded the Translating Research into Practice (TRIP) award for her work to improve end-of-life care in Indiana through evidence-based strategies.

External Funding

The OPTIMISTIC Planning Grant. (2015 – 2016). Funded by The John A. Hartford Foundation. (PI: Unroe, Co-Is: Sachs, G., Fowler, N. Hickman, S., & Thomas, A.)

Physician Guidance and Clinician Counseling for POST (2015 - 2016). Funded by the Walther Palliative Care Program, Indiana University. (PI: Torke, A., Co-Is: Hickman, S., Counsell, S., James, T., & Quill, T.)

What do surrogates mean by Goals of Care for older adults with serious illness? (2014-2016). Funded by The Greenwall Foundation. (PI: A. Torke, MD, Co-Is: S. Hickman, PhD, G. Sachs, MD, P. Helft, MD, and L. Wocial, PhD, RN, P. Monahan, PhD)

Woltman Family Communication Program (2014-2016). Funded by Melisa Reasner McGuire Advised Endowment, Fund at Rancho Santa Fe Foundation. (PI: Hickman; Co-I: L. Wocial & M. Broome)

Primary Palliative Care in the Academic Health System (2014-2018). Funded by the Methodist Health Foundation. (PI; S. Ivy; Co-I: G. Sachs, S. Hickman, L. Fettig, G. Bosslet)

Optimizing Patient Transfers, Impacting Medical Quality, and Improving Symptoms:  Transforming Institutional Care (OPTIMISTIC). (2012-2016). Funded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (Co-PIs: G. Sachs, MD and K. Unroe, MD, MHA, Co-Is: A. Nazir, M. LaMantia, S. Hickman, M. Ersek)

Family Members and the Quality of Decision-Making in Older Patients with Incurable Cancer. (2012-2014). Funded by The Walther Cancer Foundation. (PI: S. Hickman)

End-of-Life research ethics: Concerns, approaches, and impact - R21 NR010397. (2008-2010). Funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research. (PI: S. Hickman; Co-I: J. Cartwright, C. Nelson, K. Knafl.)

Converting treatment wishes into orders at end of life - RO1 NR009784-03. (2005-2009). (PI; S. Hickman; Co-Is: S. Tolle, A. Moss, B. Hammes)

Selected Publications

im, H., Ersek, M., Bradway, C., & Hickman, S.E. (2015). Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment for nursing home residents with dementia. Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

Hickman, S.E., Keevern, E., & Hammes, B.J. (2015). Use of Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) in the Clinical Setting: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. (PMC Journal – In Process)

Unroe, K., Nazir, A., Holtz, L.R., Maurer, H., Miller, E., Hickman, S.E., LaMantia, M.A., Bennett, M., Arling, G., Sachs, G.A. (2015). The OPTIMISTIC Approach: Preliminary data of the implementation of a CMS nursing facility demonstration project. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Unroe, K.T., Sachs, G.A., Dennis, M.E., Hickman, S.E., Stump, T.E., Wanzhu, T., Callahan, C.M. (2014). Hospice use among nursing home and non-nursing home patients. Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Hickman, S.E., Nelson, C.A., Smith-Howell, E., & Hammes, B.J. (2014). Use of the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) Program for Patients Being Discharged from the Hospital to the Nursing Facility. Journal of Palliative Medicine,17, 43-49.

Cartwright, J.C., Hickman, S.E., Nelson, C.A., & Knafl, K. (2013). Investigators successful strategies for working with Institutional Review Boards. Research in Nursing and Health, 36, 478-486.

Unroe, K.T., Sachs, G., Hickman, S.E., Stump, T.E., Wanzhu, T, & Callahan, C.M. (2013). Hospice use among nursing home patients. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 14, 254-259.

Hickman, S.E., Cartwright, J.C., Nelson, C.A., & Knafl, K. (2012). Compassion and Vigilance: Investigators’ Strategies to Manage Ethical Concerns in Palliative and End-of-Life Research. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 15, 880-889.

Hammes, B.J., Rooney, B.L., Gundrum, J.D., Hickman, S.E., Hager, H. (2012). The POLST Program: A retrospective review of the demographics of use and outcomes in one community where advance directives are prevalent. Journal of Palliative Medicine,15, 1-9.


Hickman, S.E., Nelson, C.A., Moss, A., Tolle, S.W., Perrin, A., & Hammes, B.J. (2011). The consistency between treatments provided to nursing facility residents and orders on the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) Form. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 59, 2091-2099.

Resnick, H.E., Hickman, S. E., Foster, G. L. (2011). Advance directives in home health and hospice Agencies: United States, 2007. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, 28, 467-474.

Bosslet, G.T., Torke, A.M., Hickman, S.E., Terry, C.L., & Helft, P.R. (2011). The patient–doctor relationship and online social networks: Results of a national survey. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 26, 1168-1174.


Hickman, S.E., Nelson, C.A., Perrin, A., Moss, A., Hammes, B.J., Tolle, S.W. (2010). A Comparison of methods to communicate treatment preferences in nursing facilities: traditional practices versus the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) Program. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 58, 1241-1248.

Barrick, A.L., Sloane, P.D., Williams, C.S., Mitchell, C.M., Connell, B.R., Wood, W., Hickman, S.E., Preisser, J.S., Zimmerman, S. (2010). Impact of ambient bright light on agitation in dementia. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 25, 1013-1021.