Sarah Hope Kagan, PhD, RN, FAAN
When other teenagers were babysitting, Sarah Hope Kagan was helping older friends and relatives recover after an injury or illness.
Dr. Kagan still cares for older people, combining evidence and relationships to help them manage health concerns, feel better, and achieve a sense of wellness. She specializes in working with older people living with cancer, which is under-addressed in nursing despite the increasing number of older adults for whom cancer is now a chronic disease.
“By bringing together knowledge, science, professional compassion, and personal empathy, I can help make an older person’s day or life better.”
- PhD, University of California, San Francisco, 1994
- MS, University of California, San Francisco, 1989
- BS, Rush University, 1986
- AB, University of Chicago, 1984
I’ve been a gerontological nurse throughout my entire career. I’ve become ever more aware of ageism as I’ve worked with people of several generations and many different ages from early childhood to centenarian status. The older I become, the more vigorously I write, talk, and work to dismantle this typically accepted and often invisible form of social and intrapersonal discrimination. The urgency of ageism is no more apparent that in the COVID pandemic. Though the pandemic did not create ageism, it uncovered this scourge for many who preferred not to see it. Legions more persist in ignoring the reality of ageism. My writing on ageism stretches back years, my thinking even longer. My actions to dismantle it span my entire career and before. People are as likely to stereotype themselves as they are to be agist in interaction with others. Ageism interacts and potentiates all other forms of social discrimination - from racism, sexism, and queer phobia to healthism and ableism. It damages health and hinders wellbeing. Too often we nurses are ageist, despite our frequently beneficent intent. My aim is to join forces with others and dismantle ageism along with all forms of discrimination to create an age-friendly, inclusive, pluralistic, and well world. I hope you’ll join me.
Helping students step out of their comfort zone and imagine the myriad possibilities of a career in nursing is a key part of Dr. Kagan’s pedagogy. She directs two semester-long Penn Nursing Study Abroad programs at the University of Queensland in Australia and Oxford Brooks University in England. She teaches an intensive two-week course in comparative elder care the University of Hong Kong, open to Penn undergraduate and graduate students.
In addition to directing the capstone experience in the Benjamin Franklin Scholars in Nursing program, Dr. Kagan directs the Benjamin Franklin Scholars in Nursing (BFS-N) program and guides BFS-N seniors through their capstone project. Dr. Kagan also teaches qualitative research methods in the doctoral program.
As Professor in the Clinician-Educator standing faculty track, Dr. Kagan’s research and teaching are closely connected to her clinical practice. Her qualitative research focuses on understanding the patient perspective and experience to improve clinician knowledge and care delivery. Her current research - the ViSuCaRe (Virtual Supportive Cancer Care Research) study - is a collaborative effort led by Dr. Kagan, Dr. Jane Evered, Dr. Clare Whitney, and leadership from the Abramson Cancer Center.
Dr. Kagan uses the wisdom each patient and family share with her, in concert with her scientific knowledge and clinical expertise, in her care for other patients and families. She is a clinician educator for the Living Well Program at the Abramson Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital, which provides symptom management and support to older adults with cancer. To ensure that this care is optimal, Dr. Kagan mentors and educates the Living Well Program’s team on symptom management, psychosocial oncology, geriatric oncology, and interdisciplinary teamwork. She also develops programs and consults on the care of individual patients with complex needs.
Dr. Kagan is the author of “Cancer in the Lives of Older Americans: Blessings and Battles,” which follows the story of Mrs. Eck, a woman in her 80s diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and explores what it means to be old and have cancer.
Opportunities to Learn and Collaborate at Penn Nursing
The Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CURF) offers a wealth of resources and opportunities for undergraduate students at Penn, including those majoring in nursing. In addition to directing BFS-N which is part of BFS, housed within CURF, Dr. Kagan collaborates with the fellowships team and with the leadership team for University Scholars.
Selected Career Highlights
- Editor in Chief, International Journal of Older People Nursing
- Marie Hippensteel Lingeman Founders Award for Excellence in Nursing Practice ,Sigma Theta Tau International
- Honorary Doctor of Science, School of Health and Life Sciences, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, United Kingdom
- University of California San Francisco School of Nursing Centennial Wall of Fame: 100 Distinguished Faculty and Alumni
- MacArthur Fellow, Class of 2003