Susan Hickman, PhD

Susan Hickman, PhD

Community & Health Systems
Associate Professor
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, funded through the School of Nursing's Center for Enhancing Qualify of Life, 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 that will include the POLST paradigm. Dr. Hickman is particularly interested in the impact of family members on the quality of decision-making and has pilot funding from the Walther Cancer Foundation to explore this issue in patients with advanced cancer and their loved ones. A related line of her research focuses on ethical issues in end-of-life research, with R21 funding from the NINR to evaluate the impact of ethical concerns on the conduct of research (NR010397). 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

External Funding

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (2012-2016). Co-I. Optimizing Patient Transfers,

Impacting Medical Quality, and Improving Symptoms:  Transforming Institutional Care (OPTIMISTIC).

The Walther Cancer Foundation (2012-2014) PI. Family Members and the Quality of Decision-Making in

Older Patients with Incurable Cancer.

R21 NR010397. (2008-2010). PI. End-of-Life research ethics: Concerns, approaches, and impact.

RO1 NR009784-03. (2005-2009). PI. Converting treatment wishes into orders at end of life.

Selected Publications

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

Unroe, K., Nazir, A., Holtz, L.R., Maurer, H., Miller, E., Hickman, S.E., LaMantia, M.A., Bennett, M., Arling, G., Sachs, G.A. (2014). The OPTIMISTIC Approach: Preliminary data of the implementation of a CMS nursing facility demonstration project. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

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.


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.

Hickman, S. E., Nelson, C. A., Moss, A., Hammes, B. J., Terwilliger, A., Jackson, A., & Tolle, S. W. (2009). Use of the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) Paradigm Program in the hospice setting. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 12, 133-141.

Hickman, S. E., Sabatino, C., Moss, A. H., & Nester Wehrle, J. (2008). The POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) Paradigm to improve end-of-life care: Potential state legal barriers to implementation. Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics, 36(1), 119-140.

Cartwright, J. C., & Hickman, S. E. (2007). Ethical and regulatory implications of conducting research in community-based care facilities. Journal of Gerontological Nursing, October, 5-11.