Gertner wins 2021 Dean’s Distinguished Dissertation Award in social sciences

March 3, 2021

Each year, The Graduate School recognizes four doctoral candidates or recent doctoral graduates for creating exceptional dissertations in each of the following fields: biological and life sciences; humanities and fine arts; mathematics, physical sciences and engineering; and social sciences.

Dr. Alex Gertner

Dr. Alex Gertner

Alex Gertner, PhD, a 2020 doctoral alumnus in health policy and management from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, is the recipient of the Dean’s Distinguished Dissertation Award in the field of social sciences for his dissertation “Quality and Access of Buprenorphine Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder in Medicaid.”

“Congratulations to our 2021 recipients of the Dean’s Distinguished Dissertation Award,” said Suzanne Barbour, dean of The Graduate School. “Their exciting work addresses questions of societal, medical and scientific importance. The Dean’s Distinguished Dissertation Award recognizes the highest level of graduate student scholarship at UNC-Chapel Hill, based on originality, innovation, scholarly excellence, methodological sophistication and significance to the field of study.

“Each of these individuals has done outstanding work that portends a brilliant future as a scholar and researcher in their field of study.”

Gertner’s dissertation research was published in a June 2020 study in Health Services Research and an August 2020 study in Health Affairs.

“Deaths from opioid overdoses continue to devastate communities across the country, but it doesn’t have to be this way,” said Gertner. “Medication treatment for opioid addiction is safe and effective although it remains underused. My dissertation examined access and quality of medication treatment in Medicaid, the country’s largest payer of addiction treatment.”

Gertner’s dissertation advisor was Professor Marisa Domino, PhD, who is director of the doctoral program in health policy and management. “This is a really high-impact study on how primary care providers are doing just as well as specialists in terms of providing high-quality care for opioid use disorder,” she noted. “The federal government announced a change in January to increase the ability of primary care providers to help provide treatments, and Alex’s work shows that this expansion is not expected to reduce the quality of care received.”

Each recipient of the Dean’s Distinguished Dissertation Award receives a cash award. Additionally, The Graduate School nominates two awardees each year for the national CGS/ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award.

Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at

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