NASW Pioneers Biography Index

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation is pleased to present the NASW Social Work Pioneers®. NASW Pioneers are social workers who have explored new territories and built outposts for human services on many frontiers. Some are well known, while others are less famous outside their immediate colleagues, and the region where they live and work. But each one has made an important contribution to the social work profession, and to social policies through service, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, or legislation.

The NASW Pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition; and they are are role models for future generations of social workers. The NASW Foundation has made every effort to provide accurate Pioneer biographies.  Please contact us at to provide missing information, or to correct inaccurate information. It is very important to us to correctly tell these important stories and preserve our history.  Please note, an asterisk attached to a name reflects Pioneers who have passed away. All NASW Social Work Pioneers® Bios are Copyright © 2019 National Association of Social Workers Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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Kathleen Ell Photo
Kathleen Ell

NASW Pioneer of the Month 

Kathleen Ell, DSW, MSW, is a renowned social work researcher who was one of the first to recognize that coronary patients who are depressed are more likely to die. Her research has also focused on technologies designed to provide racially and ethnically-focused patient care. Learn more about Ell and other notable social workers at the NASW Foundation Social Work Pioneers (December 2014). 

Pioneering Contributions

Kathleen Ell’s contributions have been in the area and intersection of research and advancing health technologies. Her research has been on technologies designed for racially and ethnically-focused patient care and on the military population. Ell’s research career spans four decades and began in public-sector care. Her study on the link between depression and increased mortality in coronary care patients was referenced in a 1996 National Institute of Health (N.I.H.) depression trial of 3,000 heart patients. Since 1980, Ell has been principal investigator of five longitudinal studies funded by the Centers for Disease control, the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Mental Health. Ell has long been a strong advocate for increasing social work contributions in translational science and research partnerships across disciplines and partnered with community care systems.

In addition to her senior faculty responsibilities, Kathleen Ell holds a research role within U.S.C.’s Tele-Health Clinic. During its early formation, she was the director of the School of Social Work’s Hamovitch Research Center, which is now endowed and recognized by U.S.C. as one of the best research centers on campus. Ell’s research has incorporated the design of comparative randomized clinical trials of underserved populations with the aim of improving understanding of differential treatment modalities.  Her work embraces a multi-disciplinary approach, which includes the healthcare economists and the school of engineering, as she engages in studying rapidly emerging technology-enhanced and telehealth care models.  The aim is to facilitate patient-centered care access and treatment uptake while reducing care costs, improving patient outcomes and advancing provider uptake. Ell’s work has been nationally recognized by the National Cancer Institute and the Agency for Health Research and Quality.

Career Highlight

Ell is the Ernest P. Larson Professorship of Poverty, Ethnicity and Health Professor of Social Work at U.S.C.  She also serves as the behavioral health research director at U.S.C. School of Social Work’s Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families. During the past 18 years, she has received over $17 million in federal funding. Ell’s research confirms that patient self-care management and treatment adherence are influenced by individual choice, cultural beliefs, stigma concerns, practical barriers and physical health in combination with contextual supports and barriers. Ell is currently co-principal investigator of a Department of Health and Human Services’ longitudinal study of 1500 low-income diabetes patients. She also has two proposals under review aimed at dissemination, sustainability and integrated uptake of patient-center safe net care. She also created a community research partnership with the Los Angeles County’s Department of Health Services. Los Angeles DHS is the second-largest, publicly-supported safety net care system. 

Biographic Data

Ell earned her DSW in 1978 and MSW in 1966 from the University of California, Los Angeles. She earned her BA from Valparaiso University. In addition to taking on informal mentoring roles, Ell works with promising doctoral students and has mentored numerous scholars throughout her career. She is interested in exploring military social work issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder treatment, as well as linking cancer care with primary health care.

Significant Achievements and Awards

  • Kathleen Ell currently serves on the editorial board of the Journal of the Society of Social Work and Research and on the consultant editorial board of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
  • 2012:  Health Care Innovations Exchange, “Multifaceted Depression and Diabetes Program,” Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; and, NASW’s Knee/Wittman Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • 2010:  Research-Tested Interventions NCI Program, "Project SAFE," National Cancer Institute;  Faculty of 1000 Medicine Selected Published Article; and Fellow, Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare

Significant Publications

Ell has authored 97 publications, including two books. Publications include:

  • Wells, et al. (in press). Low-income cancer patients in depression treatment: Dropouts and completers." Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research.
  • Wu, Shin-Yi et al. (2014). Technology-facilitated depression care management among predominantly Latino diabetes patients within a public safety net care system: Comparative effectiveness trial design. Contemporary Clinical Trials, 37(2), 342-354.
  • Nedjat-Haiem, F.A., Carrion, I., Lorenz, K.A., Ell, K. & Palinkas, L. (2013). Psychosocial concerns among Latinas with life-limiting advanced cancer. Omega, 67, 165-172.
  • Fann, J., Ell, K. & Sharpe, M. (2012). Integrating psychosocial care into cancer services. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 30(11), 1178-1186.
  • Wells, A., Palinkas, L.A., Qui, X., Ell, K. & Palinkas, L. (2011). Cancer patients’ perspectives on discontinuing depression treatment: the “drop out” phenomenon. Patient Preference & Adherence, 5, 465-470.
  • Vourlekis, B. & Ell, K. (2007). Best practice case management for improved medical adherence. Social Work in Health Care, 44, 161-177.

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by May 1. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.