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J. Denise Burnette portrait [View Image]

J. Denise Burnette, Ph.D.

Samuel S. Wurtzel Endowed Faculty Chair in Social Work and professor

Email: jdburnette@vcu.edu

Phone: (804) 828-2859

M.S. Mental Health Policy & Services, Universidade Nova de Lisboa
Ph.D., University of California
M.S.S.W., University of Tennessee   
B.A., University of Tennessee
B.S., University of Tennessee

Denise Burnette, Ph.D., is the Samuel S. Wurtzel Professor of Social Work at VCU. Her research focuses on global mental health, with an emphasis on health and psychosocial problems and related service needs of older adults in resource-constrained settings. She has held Senior Fulbright fellowships in India and Botswana, and served as an International Scholar with the Open Society in Central Asia and the Balkans for almost a decade. Burnette’s program of research aims to inform the development and delivery of effective, appropriately targeted services in locales where there is a significant mental health treatment gap for older adults. Her current projects include a study to adapt an evidence-based psychosocial intervention for common mental disorders with older adults in Puerto Rico and analyses of nationally representative data from China and India in the World Health Organization Study on Global Aging and Adult Health (SAGE).
Burnette has taught extensively across M.S.W. and Ph.D. curricula and in related disciplines. Her teaching experience is mainly in quantitative and qualitative research methods, foundation and advanced practice, and aging services. She has held several academic administrative appointments and she currently directs the School’s Ph.D. program. A core component of Burnette’s research agenda in low- and middle-income countries is capacity-building with faculty and students in collaborating schools of social work and public health. Examples include dissertation supervision, classroom teaching, community lectures, seminars, and training workshops and individual and departmental faculty development initiatives. 
Burnette has extensive direct social work practice experience in medical and public psychiatric settings. She also holds a certification in Management Development for College and University Administrators from Harvard University and is Professor Emerita at Columbia University School of Social Work.

Awards, honors and appointments

  • 2018 University of Richmond Faculty Seminar to South Africa, Virginia Commonwealth University Representative
  • 2018 Phi Kappa Phi
  • 2013 American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, Fellow
  • 2012-13 Senior Fulbright Scholar, Center for Study of HIV/AIDS, University of Botswana, Gaborone
  • 2008-15 International Scholar, Academic Fellowship Program, Soros Open Society Foundations
  • 2006-07 Senior Fulbright Scholar, Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Mumbai, India
  • 2003 New York Academy of Medicine, Fellow
  • 2001 Nathan Cummings Visiting Lecturer, University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration
  • 1999 Association of Gerontology Education in Social Work, Faculty Achievement Award
  • 1999 New York State Office for Aging/State Society on Aging, New York State Aging Scholar
  • 1998 Gerontological Society of America, Fellow; Social Research, Policy & Practice
  • 1998 Lydia Rapoport Distinguished Visiting Professor, Smith College School for Social Work
  • 1990 Sigma Phi Omega, National Academic Honor and Professional Society in Gerontology
  • 1989 University of California, Berkeley, Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor
  • 1972 Phi Beta Kappa

Teaching areas and interests

  •  PhD Professional Seminar; Qualitative Research Methods 
  •  Areas of teaching/mentoring expertise: aging; research methods; global mental health

Research projects & funding

  • Mental Health Status and Needs of Older Adults in Puerto Rico 
  • Social and Psychological Well-being of Older Adults in India and China


Myagmarjav, S., Burnette, D. & Goeddeke, F. (2019). Comparison of the 18-item and 6-item Lubben  Social Network Scales with community-dwelling older adults in Mongolia. PLoS ONE, 14(4): e0215523.

Witte, S.S., Burnette, D., Myarmarjav, S. & Toivgoo, A. (2019). Academic research partnerships: Lessons learned from two studies in Mongolia. M. Kumar, O.S. Bahar & K.-Y. Huang (Guest Editors), Special issue on Equity, Collaboration and Empowerment in Mental Health Research Partnerships. Global Social Welfare, 6.

McDonald, S.E., Im, H., Green K.E., Luce, C.O. & Burnette, D. (2018). Comparing factor models of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with Somali refugee youth in Kenya: An item response theory analysis of the PTSD Checklist–Civilian Version. Traumatology, Advance online publication.

Burnes, D., Lachs, M. Burnette, D. & Pillemer, K. (2017). Varying appraisals of elder mistreatment among victims: Findings from a population-based study. Journals of Gerontology B: Psychological Sciences, Social Sciences.

Burnette, D., Ama, N.O., & Shaibu, S. (2016). HIV-related knowledge and practices: A cross-sectional study of adults aged 50 years and over in Botswana. South African Family Practice, 58 (3), 100-7.

Ama, N.O., Burnette, D. & Shaibu, S. (2016). Healthcare providers’ attitude towards older adults with HIV and AIDS in Botswana. Journal of AIDS and HIV Research. 8(10), 136-149.

Burnette, D. (2016). Evidence, expertise and ethics: The making of an influential in American social work. Research on Social Work Practice, 26 (6), 609-21. (invited oral history with Eileen Gambrill).

Sharma, S., Burnette, D., Bhattacharya, A. & Nath S. (2016). Community participation in rural primary education: An underestimated and understudied component of India’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Education for All) initiative,” Psychosociological Issues in Human Resource Management, 4(1): 96–114.

Burnette, D. & Spencer-Suarez, K. (2016). Mixed-methods research. Oxford Bibliographies in Social Work. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Burnette, D., Duca, V. & Dhembo, E. (2016) Psychological distress, social support, and quality of life among cancer caregivers in Albania: A moderated mediation analysis of social support and gender. Psycho-Oncology.

Virginia Commonwealth University
School of Social Work
Academic Learning Commons
1000 Floyd Avenue, Third Floor
Box 842027
Richmond, Virginia 23284-2027

Phone: (804) 828-1030
Fax: (804) 828-0716
Email: sswinfo@vcu.edu
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