Laura A. Schmidt, PhD, MSW, MPH


Laura Schmidt, PhD, is a Professor of Health Policy in the School of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco.  She holds a joint appointment in the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies and the Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine. Dr. Schmidt is also Co-Director of the Community Engagement and Health Policy Program for UCSF’s Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute. She received her PhD training in sociology at UC Berkeley and while there, completed doctoral coursework in public health, and also holds a masters degree in clinical social work.

Dr. Schmidt has dedicated her career to intervening on the social determinants of health, and to understanding how lifestyle risk factors, such as alcohol and poor diet, influence chronic disease and health inequality. In service to the UN/WHO’s Commission on Social Determinants of Health, Priority Public Health Conditions Programme, she led a worldwide review of alcohol and inequality, which contributed to a book awarded the British Medical Association’s 2011 “Best Book in Public Health.”  Dr. Schmidt has served on WHO’s field trials to assess the cross-cultural applicability of diagnoses for substance abuse disorders in the International Classification of Diseases, and currently serves on the Global Advisory Board for the European Commission’s Addictions and Lifestyle in Contemporary Europe.  She has also been a leader in US efforts to address the broad spectrum of health behaviors linked to addiction, having served as an advisor and reviewer for the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research. 

The hallmarks of Dr. Schmidt’s substantive research and teaching are the use of mixed methods and translational approaches for evidence-based policymaking. In the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Advancing Recovery Initiative, she works with policymakers in twelve US states and cities to promote diffusion of best practices in substance abuse treatment at the systems level.  Her work in the Greater New Orleans Area has focused on primary care rebuilding and transformation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  As Principal Investigator for the Welfare Client Longitudinal Study (WCLS), supported by over $8 million in NIH grants, she tracked a cohort of welfare mothers in California over six years to study the impact of welfare reform on health.  She is currently engaged in efforts to address obesity and alcohol problems in the San Francisco Health Improvement Partnerships.  The goal is to improve the health of all San Franciscans, while reducing health disparities, through partnerships of academics and CBOs that deploy evidence-based interventions, ranging from local controls on alcohol sales, to sugar taxation, to supported housing for the homeless. 


Schmidt Laura A, Pia Mäkelä, Jurgen Rehm, Robin Room. Alcohol: Equity and Social Determinants. In: Eric Blas and Anand Sivasankara Kurup (eds). Equity, Social Determinants and Public Health Programmes.  Priority Public Health Conditions Knowledge Network (PPHC-KN) of the WHO/UN Commission on Social Determinants of Health, Geneva: World Health Organization, p.11-30, 2010.  Winner of the British Medical Association's "Best Book in Public Health" for 2011.

McCarty, Dennis, John McConnell and Laura Schmidt “Priorities for Policy Research on Treatments for Alcohol and Drug Use Disorders.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 39:87–95, 2010.

Schmidt, Laura A., Tammy Tam, James Wiley and Constance M. Weisner, “Insurance Instability: Replacement of Aid to Families with Dependent Children by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Impact on Medicaid Clients with Substance Abuse Problems” in Medicaid and Treatment for People with Substance Abuse Problems, Bentson McFarland Dennis McCarty, Anne E. Kovas (eds.), Nova Science Publishers, Inc., New York, NY, 2011.

Mulia, Nina, Laura A. Schmidt, Yu Ye and Thomas Greenfield.“Preventing Disparities in Alcohol  Screening  and  Brief  Intervention:  The  Need  to  Move  Beyond Primary Care.” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Sept;35(9):1557-60, 2011

Schmidt, Laura, Denise Zabkiewicz, Stuart Henderson, James Wiley and Laurie Jacobs.  “On the Declining Mental Health and Well Being of the Welfare Population: New Dilemmas for Serving the Poor.” Social Work Public Health, Mar; 26(2):189-211, 2011.

Schmidt, Laura A., Tam, Tammy W., Larson, Mary Jo.  “Sources of Bias in Substance Abuse Services Research: An Instrumental Variable Approach” Journal of Studies on Alcohol Drugs. Jan;73(1):144-53, 2012.

Schmidt, L., Reickmann, T., Abram, A, Molfenter, T., Capoccia, V., Roman, P., Gustafson, D., and McCarty, D. “Advancing Recovery: Implementing Evidence-Based Treatment at the Systems Level.”Journal of Studies on Alcohol Drugs. 73, 413-422, 2012.

Lustig, Robert, Schmidt, Laura A., Brindis, Claire. “The Toxic Truth About Sugar.” Nature, 482: 27-9, 2012.

Schmidt, Laura and R. Room: “Alcohol and the Process of Economic Development: Contributions from Ethnographic Research.” International Journal of Alcohol and Drug Research, 1:1, 1-15, 2012.

Rittenhouse, D., Schmidt, Laura, Wu, K., Wiley, J. "The Post-Katrina Conversion Of Clinics In New Orleans To Medical Homes Shows Change Is Possible, But Hard To Sustain". Health Affairs, 31(8):1729-1738, 2012.

Selected Projects: 

Integrating Addiction Treatment and Medical Care in a Commercial Health Plan (Co-Investigator – R01 NIH/NIDA) – 07/01/11 – 06/30/16

Testing Medical Marijuana's Unintended Consequences for Youth and Young Adults (Principal Investigator – R01 NIH/NIDA) – 09/15/12 – 05/31/16

Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSI) - Community Engagement/Health Policy Program yrs 1-4 (Co-Director – NIH/UL1) 09/30/06 – 06/30/16

Mobile Health Support for SFDPH Heavy Users of Multiple Systems (Principal Investigator – UCSF-CTSI RAP-SOS) – 02/01/12 – 06/30/12

How do institutional inequities explain health inequalities? (consultant/mentor for Kim Rhoads - RWJ Foundation, Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Award) – 09/01/09 – 08/30/12   

Transforming Primary Care Practice: Lessons from the New Orleans Safety Net (Co- Investigator – R18 DHHS/AHRQ) – 07/10/10 – 7/31/12

Racial Disparities in Access to Appropriate Alcohol Treatment Services (Principal Investigator – R01 NIH/NIAAA) – 07/01/08 – 06/30/12