Small patients, big discoveries

Penn Nursing faculty and researchers are revolutionizing pediatric care to keep pace with technology, advances in treatment, and current events.

Pediatrics is often thought of as cute people doing cute things for cute children,” says Kerry Shields. “It’s so much more than that. Our work is highly complex.” As a lecturer in the department of family and community health at Penn’s School of Nursing, Shields has a front row to the panoply of pediatrics innovations coming out of the school. She says, “Childhood illness is often lifelong illness. We’re not just treating what’s in front of you, but changing the trajectory of someone’s entire life, as well as the lives of their siblings, parents, and community.”

Exterior of a brick building with green trees and bushes surrounding a set of two stairs. The words "Claire M. Fagin Hall" are atop a red awning in front of the door.

Penn’s faculty are leading the field of pediatric nursing science and research. Their work ranges from large-scale international studies to creating data models that are poised to advance the discipline and question accepted practices. Their queries are uniquely poised through the lens of nurses, meaning, with an eye toward empathy and equality. “We partner with parents, we stand beside them at the bedside, we stay with patients around the clock and address their physical and emotional needs,” says Martha A.Q. Curley, Ruth M. Colket Endowed Chair in Pediatric Nursing. “Nursing is a discipline that requires its own science to support it.” Her work also extends beyond the hospital doors. She recently finished enrollment on a cohort study looking at pediatric post-intensive care syndrome. She’s not just assuming that a patient is OK once they leave the ICU.

Advancements aren’t only coming from research. Faculty and nurse scientists are also thinking about how to better prepare students for clinical practice. “We’ve adjusted and structured the curriculum to focus on the lifespan of a patient’s health,” says assistant professor Amanda Bettencourt. “It’s key to clear out a path where students see themselves as really making a difference in the lives of children and families.” Bettencourt, a clinical nurse specialist, has a particular interest in implementation science. She figures out ways to help nurses adapt to necessary changes in the hospital, something that can be overwhelming to many. She does that by partnering with local pediatric clinicians for different research studies.

Faculty and nurse scientists are tackling such issues as burnout, nutrition in critically ill children, and shifting standard practices to improve outcomes. They also confront how data is collected and how it is used, and the changing cultural and political landscape in medical care. Nursing experts examine critical aspects of high-risk maternal-fetal care, and how the decisions and outcomes for this patient population are impacted by changing cultural beliefs and reproductive health laws, and partnering with community organizations to address the unique experiences and needs of individuals who have been largely missing from the evidence in high-risk maternal and fetal care.

This story is by Ashley Primis. Read more at Penn Nursing.