Dr. Laura Starbird

Laura Starbird, PhD, RN

Assistant Professor

Dr. Starbird’s work focuses on organization-level interventions to remove barriers to healthcare for women with substance use disorder and its associated infectious diseases, specifically HIV and hepatitis C virus.

Women who use drugs face unique challenges to achieving and maintaining wellness, whether these challenges stem from gender-based violence, trauma, parenting, or the criminal justice system. Using a harm reduction approach, she seeks to minimize these barriers so that women and families affected by substance use can safely, comfortably, and conveniently engage in the healthcare system. To do this, Dr. Starbird studies real-world implementation strategies, including economic implications, for interventions that improve the wellbeing of women who use drugs.

As a public health nurse, my goal is to improve care delivery systems so that engaging in and receiving high quality healthcare is the default, not the exception, for marginalized women and families affected by substance use disorder.


  • PhD, Johns Hopkins University, School of Nursing, 2018
  • MSN, University of California, San Francisco, 2012
  • BSN, Saint Anselm College, 2009

Social Justice

Dr. Starbird’s research seeks to eliminate barriers to engaging in healthcare for women who are marginalized in society, particularly women who use drugs. Women who use drugs face systemic challenges to accessing high-quality healthcare, including stigma from providers, gender-based violence, setting-based safety concerns, childcare responsibilities and legal fears about child custody, lack of gender-focused services, and inflexibility of healthcare settings. Dr. Starbird’s work is rooted in the belief that the best way to minimize these barriers is for the healthcare system to improve the way it delivers care, rather than putting the burden on the individual patient to change her behavior.


Dr. Starbird has taught courses on population health, health promotion, and risk reduction. She has served as a guest lecturer on topics including implementation science, conducting economic evaluations, and nursing care for people living with HIV and hepatitis C virus.


Dr. Starbird’s research spans the intervention pipeline, from efficacy to implementation. She has led a clinical trial of nurse case management to improve hepatitis C care among adults co-infected with HIV and conducted multiple cost analyses alongside clinical trials. Her current research seeks to understand how to improve the delivery and implementation of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for women who inject drugs in primary care and reproductive health settings. She is also studying the economic implications of a community-driven intervention to reduce opioid overdose deaths in urban and rural communities.

Opportunities to Learn and Collaborate at Penn Nursing

Dr. Starbird is connected with colleagues across the University of Pennsylvania at the Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), the Penn Mental Health AIDS Research Center (PMHARC), and the Center for Health Economics of Treatment Interventions for Substance Use, HCV, and HIV (CHERISH). Dr. Starbird is also part of interdisciplinary research teams outside of the University of Pennsylvania working to understand the economic implications of implementing interventions for substance use and women’s health with colleagues in the fields of Health Economics, Implementation Science, Medicine, Public Health, and Social Work via CHERISH and the HEALing Communities Study.

Selected Career Highlights

  • 2020-2025 Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (K01), National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health
  • 2019-2021 Steering Committee, National Nurse-Led Care Consortium PCORI Engagement Award on Capacity Building in Nurse-Led Health Centers to Address Substance Use Disorder
  • 2016-2018 Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31), National Institute of Nursing Research, National Institutes of Health

Related Stories

Opening Doors - Center for Global Women’s Health Updates

The Center for Global Women’s Health presented an update to inform about the Center’s recent initiatives, dialogue about collective endeavors, and discuss opportunities for collaboration. Also presenting were two Penn Nursing faculty members, Laura Starbird, PhD, RN and Melanie Kornides, ScD, RN, FNP-BC, who shared how they are actively addressing the Center’s strategic priority areas through their research and scholarship. Watch the March 28, 2023 recording here.

Read MoreOpening Doors - Center for Global Women’s Health Updates