Katherine (Kat) Tumlinson, PhD

Associate Professor
Department of Health Policy and Management
Faculty Fellow
Carolina Population Center


Dr. Tumlinson is an Assistant Professor of Maternal and Child Health (MCH) and a Fellow of the Carolina Population Center (CPC). She is trained as an epidemiologist and demographer, with a portfolio of work at the intersection of population and global reproductive health. Dr. Tumlinson has served as PI on research studies conducted in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, undertaking cross-sectional and longitudinal primary data collection activities at both the household level and within healthcare facilities. Professionally, Dr. Tumlinson has worked as a family planning service provider and reproductive health educator and advocate, and these roles have provided critical context for the development of a highly relevant and applied research agenda. 

Dr. Tumlinson’s research focuses on global reproductive justice with an emphasis on increasing access to high-quality contraceptive care in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Her recent research in Western Kenya revealed several substantial health system barriers to contraceptive access. These findings highlight the need for solutions that circumvent the weak incentive structure. Providers with substantial technical knowledge may fail to meet the contraceptive needs of their clients if they are largely absent, require informal payment, or treat clients with disrespect. A systems approach that incorporates tenants of provider motivation, not only provider knowledge, is key to Dr. Tumlinson’s approach. This approach opens new directions in family planning research to address the particular neglect of negative provider behaviors in the effort to improve access to high quality contraceptive care.

Across her research activities, Dr. Tumlinson employs complex quantitative methodologies, integrated qualitative techniques, and a cross-disciplinary approach. Throughout all stages of her work, Dr. Tumlinson regularly engages with relevant key stakeholders to ensure her research agenda is informed by in-country priorities and to ensure her results find audience with in-country reproductive health program managers and policy makers.

Katherine (Kat) Tumlinson in the Gillings News

Honors and Awards

IBM Junior Faculty Development Award
2020, University of North Carolina

Online Quality Innovation Challenge
2018, David and Lucile Packard Foundation

2016-2018, Cambridge Reproductive Health Consultants

Berton H. Kaplan Award for best student publication, Dep't of Epidemiology
2015, UNC-CH

Epidemiology department nominee, UNC Distinguished Dissertation Award, Social Sciences
2015, UNC-CH

Student Travel Award, UNC Department of Epidemiology
2013, UNC-CH

Student Transportation Award, Graduate School
2013, UNC-CH

Harry A. Guess Scholarship, Gillings School of Global Public
2010, UNC-CH

New Investigators in Global Health Award
2008, Global Health Council

Michael and Linda Frieze Fellowship
2005, Brandeis University

PACEsetters Award for improving the lives of girls
2002, PACE Center for Girls

Research Activities

Principal Investigator, Provider imposed barriers to contraceptive uptake and continuation

Principal Investigator, Patient perspectives on addressing contraceptive discontinuation in low-income settings: Advancing patient-centered care through qualitative inquiry

Service Activities

2018-present  Global Health MPH Concentration subcommittee

2023 - present:  Member, MPH (Health Policy and Management Concentration) Admissions Committee

2023 - present:  Member, Faculty Equity Collective

Key Publications

Free access to a broad contraceptive method mix and women’s contraceptive choice: Evidence from sub-Saharan Africa. †Chang W & Tumlinson K. (2021). Studies in Family Planning, 52(1), 3-22.
View publication

“When it comes to time of removal, nothing is straightforward": A qualitative study of experiences with barriers to removal of long-acting reversible contraception in Western Kenya. †Britton L, Caitlin Williams, Dickens Onyango, Debborah Wambua Tumlinson K. (2021). Contraception, 22(3).
View publication

If the big fish are doing it then why not me down here?: A qualitative assessment of informal fee payments and healthcare provider motivation in Kenya. Tumlinson K, Gichane M, Curtis S.  (2020). Studies in Family Planning, 51(1), 33-50.

Reforming Medical Education Admission in Low- Income Countries: Who Gets Admitted and Why it Matters. Tumlinson K, Jaff D, Stilwell B, Leonard K.  (2019). BMC Human Resources for Health, 17(91).

Understanding absenteeism among health care providers in urban Kenya: A qualitative analysis. Tumlinson K, Gichane M, Curtis S, LeMasters K. (2019). BMC Health Services Research, 19(1).

Pregnancy Experiences of Women in Rural Romania: Understanding Ethnic and Socioeconomic Disparities. LeMasters K, Wallis AB, Chereches R, Gichanec M, Tehei C, Varga A, Tumlinson K.  (2019). Culture, Health and Sexuality, 21(3), 249-262.

Challenges to the Iraqi health system call for reform. Jaff D, Tumlinson K, Al-Hamadani A. (2018). Journal of Health Systems, 3(2), 9-12.

Letter to the Editor relating to the paper ‘Young Married Women’s Perceptions on the Meanings and Motivations for Their Husbands’ Opposition to their Modern Contraceptive Use in Malawi’ by Kaneka and Mturi. Katherine Tumlinson (2018). University of Oxford, 14(1), 1.

Association between skilled maternal healthcare and postpartum contraceptive use in Ethiopia. G Tessema, T Mekonnen, Z Mengesha, K Tumlinson (2018). BMC pregnancy and childbirth, 18(1), 172.

Pregnancy experiences of women in rural Romania: understanding ethnic and socioeconomic disparities. K LeMasters, A Baber Wallis, R Chereches, M Gichane, C Tehei, A Varga, K Tumlinson (2018). Culture, health & sexuality.


  • PhD, Epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2014
  • MA, International Development, Brandeis University, 2007