Rochester, Minnesota




The research program of Sean Phelan, Ph.D., is focused on understanding the implications of stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination in regard to health and medical care for members of stigmatized, marginalized and minority groups. He is especially interested in unconscious cognitive processes and how they may influence the behavior of health care providers, including communication with patients and clinical decision-making.

The goal of Dr. Phelan's research is to develop interventions to help health care providers reduce the impact of unconscious bias and provide patient-centered, compassionate care. He is also investigating ways to provide patients with strategies for attaining high-quality care and reducing the impact of discrimination on health.

Focus areas

  • Identifying the effects that health care provider attitudes have on the obese and the care of obese patients
  • Examining the characteristics and courses in medical school that might help improve the cultural competence of new physicians and reduce race disparities in health care
  • Understanding the medical school experience and well-being of students who are members of stigmatized groups — for example, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender; women; ethnic minorities; and the obese
  • Developing programs that teach people how to overcome their unconscious and conscious biases
  • Examining the effects that stigma has on the mental health of individuals with certain cancers, as well as people with brain injuries and their family caregivers

Significance to patient care

Dr. Phelan's research will help improve the way that health care providers communicate with their patients and provide a health care environment that feels welcoming and safe. His research is aimed at reducing disparities in quality of patient care and treatment decision-making.


Primary Appointment

  1. Section Head, Social and Behavioral Sciences, Division of Health Care Delivery Research, Kern Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery
  2. Consultant, Division of Health Care Policy & Research, Department of Quantitative Health Sciences

Joint Appointment

  1. Consultant, Department of Family Medicine

Academic Rank

  1. Associate Professor of Health Services Research


  1. Fellow - The Effect of Stigma on Polytrauma/Traumatic Brain Injury Patient Community Integration and Caregiver Strain Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center
  2. Ph.D. - Stigma and health disparities; social epidemiology Minor in biostatistics University of Minnesota School of Public Health
  3. MPH - Thesis: Patient Race and Multiple Hospitalizations for Diabetes University of Minnesota School of Public Health
  4. BA - Psychology University of Chicago

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