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Message From The Chair

Donna Ferriero, MD, MS

Donna Ferriero, MD, MS

For more than 100 years, our department has distinguished itself in educating the next generation of physicians, delivering excellent clinical care to young patients, and constantly improving treatment options through biomedical research.

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Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, PhD

Professor of Pediatrics

Contact Info

3333 California Street, Suite 245, Box 0503

University of California, San Francisco

San Francisco, CA 94118

Voice: (415) 502-4967

Fax: (415) 502-4858




  • California State University, Northridge, BA, Psychology, 1988       
  • University of California, Riverside, MA, Psychology, 1992       
  • University of California, Riverside, PhD, Developmental Psychology, 1994       
  • UCSF Division of Adolescent Medicine    Fellow,    Adolescent Health, 1994-1996

Research Interests

  • Child, adolescent and emerging adult development
  • Adolescent and young adult health, risk behavior, risk perceptions, decision-making, risk communication
  • Adolescent sexuality and reproductive health; pregnancy and STD prevention
  • Tobacco control among adolescents; tobacco prevention
  • Adolescent alcohol use
  • Race/ethnicity and acculturation

UCSF Program Affiliations



Dr. Bonnie Halpern-Felsher is a professor in the Division of Adolescent Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, University of California, San Francisco. She is also the codirector of research for the Adolescent Medicine Fellowship and codirector of the General Pediatrics Fellowship, and is a faculty member at UCSF’s Psychology and Medicine Postdoctoral Program, The Center for Health and Community, The Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, the UCSF Heller Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, and the Robert Wood Johnson Scholars Program. Dr. Halpern-Felsher is also a member of the UCSF’s Chancellor’s Council on Faculty Life (CCFL), chairs the Faculty Development Day Subcommittee of CCFL, and is the UCSF representative to the UC-systemwide committee, Board on Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS).  She also sits on the Department of Pediatrics Professional Development Committee and Scholarship Oversight Committee.  Eight years ago, Dr. Halpern-Felsher founded the UCSF Biomedical and Health Sciences Internship for High School Students (BHSI), a program that she continues to direct.

Dr. Halpern-Felsher is a developmental psychologist whose research has focused on cognitive and psychosocial factors involved in health-related decision-making, perceptions of risk and vulnerability, health communication, and risk behavior,  and she has published in each of these areas.  Dr. Halpern-Felsher has been the principal investigator or co-principal Investigator on several grants concerning adolescent and young adult risk behavior. She has served as a consultant to a number of community-based adolescent health promotion programs and has been an active member on several national campaigns to understand and reduce adolescent risk behavior.  She has served as a committee member for the Institute of Medicine Committee on Reducing Underage Drinking, which published the 2004 report “Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility.” Dr. Halpern-Felsher was also appointed a member of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on Reducing Tobacco Use, which published a report, “Ending the Tobacco Problem: A Blueprint for the Nation,” as well as the Committee on Contributions from the Behavioral and Social Sciences in Reducing and Preventing Teen Motor Crashes, IOM and the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, The National Academies of Sciences.  Most recently, she was appointed to a new IOM committee, “Committee on Scientific Standards for Studies on Reduced Risk Tobacco Products.”

Current Research

Dr. Halpern-Felsher’s research focuses on developmental, cognitive and psychosocial factors involved in health-related decision-making.  Over the past 15 years, she has conducted several large studies to understand the decision-making process involved in adolescent and young adult risk behavior.  One study, funded by California’s Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program, involved a prospective cohort design in which 400 male and female adolescents of varying racial/ethnic background were followed from 9th grade through one year post high school. The ultimate goal of this longitudinal study has been to determine the extent to which adolescents’ perceptions of smoking-related long- and short-term risks and benefits influence adolescents’ and young adults’ initiation, continuation and cessation of smoking. Such information is critical for the development of new, more effective programs aimed at reducing adolescent smoking. We have published several papers from this study, including articles in Health Psychology, Pediatrics, Preventive Medicine, and the American Journal of Public Health.  Several additional papers are currently in review, and additional papers are being published off of this large data set. 

Another study, funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, uses a prospective cohort design in which over 600 ethnically and socioeconomically diverse male and female adolescents were followed for five years.  The aims of this study were to: (1) examine whether the onset of adolescent sexual activity, both with and without condom use, is associated with previous and/or subsequent changes in judgments concerning STD and HIV/AIDS risk; (2) examine whether adolescents’ personal experiences with negative outcomes related to sexual behavior (or lack of such experiences) influence subsequent risk judgments and sexual behavior; (3) determine the extent to which perceived benefits of sexual behavior are related to adolescent sexual behavior, over and above perceived risks; and (4) determine whether knowledge of peers’ experiences with sexual behaviors and related positive and negative outcomes play a role in adolescents’ risk judgments and subsequent sexual behavior. Dr. Halpern-Felsher received additional funding to continuing following the sample into young adulthood. The results of this research should provide valuable information concerning the relationship between risk judgments and behavior that is expected to be useful to researchers and health practitioners concerned with developing programs to reduce adolescents’ sexual risk. Several papers have been published from this study, including in the Journal of Research on Adolescence; Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Journal of Adolescent Health, and Pediatrics; other manuscripts are in review, and additional manuscripts will be submitted shortly.

With funding from the William T. Grant Foundation, Dr. Halpern-Felsher has been conducting qualitative studies on adolescent decision-making, one focusing on sexual decision-making and the other on decisions to use tobacco. These qualitative studies provide for a larger, adolescent-driven perspective on decision-making not always captured by quantitative surveys. We have completed qualitative interviews with 42 adolescents (N=42; 52% female, mean age = 14.12, SD = .45) randomly selected from our overall sample of participants in the sexual behavior study. Results have been published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence. Interviews with 40 adolescents participating in the tobacco study have also been conducted; results forthcoming.

Most recently, Dr. Halpern-Felsher received funding from TRDRP to translate her research findings to the development of novel school-based interventions to prevent tobacco use.  She has also expanded and extended her research to understanding risk behaviors in a larger context of adolescent development as well as within the emerging adult population, as this is a developmental period most often characterized by exploration including health-compromising behaviors.  She is applying developmental models of decision-making that include not only cognitive processes involved in decisions (e.g., risk and benefit perceptions, social norms), but also an integration of the role that contextual (e.g., parents, peers) and developmental (e.g., age, maturation, psychosocial development, emotional development) factors play in decision-making and behavioral trajectories.  She is also examining the extent to which adolescents compared to adults utilize analytic versus heuristic processes in decision-making, and whether such differences explain seemingly discrepant patterns of behavior by developmental period.  She is also examining ethnic differences in adolescents’ and adults’ engagement in health risk behavior, with a specific focus on whether there are cultural differences in how adolescents make decisions. Finally, Dr. Halpern-Felsher is applying her research models and findings to the development, application, and evaluation of novel interventions aimed at reducing adolescents’ and young adults’ engagement in risk behavior, and she is extending her research agenda to include youth in rural communities.

Recent Publications (PubMed)

Last updated 05-07-2013