June 26, 2020

Researchers use Add Health data to discover connections between chronic medical conditions and the importance of belonging

student in wheelchair receives a diploma from a university. disabled girl with a diploma from school and university.

Students with chronic medical conditions struggle with more than just their physical health. The hurdles formed from medical conditions impact their school attendance, concentration, and the expectations of their parents and teachers.   Around one-third of students suffering from chronic medical conditions experience symptoms so severe that it interferes with their schooling on a daily basis.  A sense of belonging is a basic human need, and a primary source of this belonging for adolescents come from their school community. Researcher Dr. Kathryn M. Kirkpatrick analyzed the restricted-use Add Health data to compare adolescents with chronic health conditions with their healthy peers to determine the impact of school belonging on their education. She found that the students with chronic medical conditions not only reported a lower sense of school belonging but were also less likely to graduate on time. Additionally, Dr. Kirkpatrick found that while school connectedness is important to all students, it has a stronger impact on those with medical conditions. 

Students with chronic medical conditions regularly report more feelings of loneliness and isolation with less school satisfaction, academic achievement, and motivation.  High-risk students may need more cultivated opportunities to engage with their instructors and peers to create a stronger sense of belonging. These findings contribute to both the fields of education and psychology, offering ways in which teachers can understand and promote a stronger feeling of perceived connectedness for all their students resulting in higher academic attainment for all.


Dr. Kathryn M. Kirkpatrick


Kirkpatrick, K. M. (2020). Adolescents with Chronic Medical Conditions and High School Completion: The Importance of Perceived School Belonging. Continuity in Education, 1(1), pp. 50–63. DOI: