Faculty Sketch

Mary Jo Gilmer, PhD, MBA, RN-BC, FAAN

Professor of Nursing
Professor of Pediatrics, Monroe Carell Jr.
Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
Director, Pediatric Palliative Care Research Team


Current Research Interests

Dr. Mary Jo Gilmer earned her PhD in nursing at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Prior to that, she worked as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Pediatric Cardiovascular surgery and received a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship to pursue her MBA at Queens University. Dr. Gilmer has received numerous awards for her research and teaching expertise and has been a leader in several international health care projects in Belize, Uganda, China, Italy and Ecuador. She has recently focused on enhancing care of children with life-threatening conditions through establishment of a core palliative care service at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital. Dr. Gilmer is an active participant in the AACN Clinical Nurse Leader project. Research interests include parent-sibling bereavement and parent-child communication about childhood cancer.

Cancer kills more children than any other disease, but the impact of a child's death on families is understudied. Bereaved families may be at risk for numerous psychosocial difficulties, which can persist for years. Others may experience new competencies and personal growth (e.g., maturity, compassion) after the initial grieving period. A variety of risk and resistance factors (e.g., age, coping skills, social support) may affect outcomes, but little is known about what ameliorates difficulties and what promotes resilience. A primary problem has been a lack of well-designed research on the topic. The long-term goal of Dr. Gilmer's area of research is to reduce the suffering and morbidity of families affected by cancer and the loss of a child through controlled, longitudinal research on the psychosocial outcomes of these families. One objective of the research is to differentiate subgroups of siblings and parents in need of assistance and to identify modifiable factors associated with adjustment.

An important initiative in palliative care is to address parental questions and concerns. Little is known about one of the most difficult questions parents ask, "How do I talk with my child about cancer"? Parents turn to healthcare providers for guidance, but little research has addressed this issue and no studies have used direct observation methods of parents and children as they discuss a cancer diagnosis and its treatment. One long-tem goal of this area of research is to facilitate parent-child communication regarding childhood cancer in order to improve management of psychological distress and decision making.



Parent-Child Communication about Cancer; Role: Co-I; Co-Investigators: Bruce Compas, PhD, PI & Cindy Gerhardt, PhD, Co-I; Funder: NIH; Funding Dates: 7/01/07-06/30/12

Sibling and Parent Bereavement from Childhood Cancer; Role: Site-PI; Co-Investigators: Cindy Gerhardt, PI & Maru Barrera, Site-PI (Toronto); Funder: National Cancer Institute; Funding Dates: 8/01/05-07/31/10
Symptom Clusters and Quality of life among Families in Pediatric Palliative Care, PI; Funder: Vanderbilt Institute of Clinical & Translational Research, (NIH/NCRR) 3/8/10-9/8/10

Pediatric Advanced Comfort Team; Role: PI; Co-Investigator: Brian Carter, MD; Funder: Children's Fund; Funding Dates: 7/01/06-06/30/07

Pediatric Advanced Comfort Team; Role: PI; Funder: Children's Fund; Funding Dates: 7/01/05-06/30/06


Representative Publications

Gerhardt, C. A., Fairclough, D. L., Grossenbacher, J. C., Barrera, M., Gilmer, M. J., Foster, T. L., Fairclough, D. L., & Vannatta, K. (2011, EPub ahead of Print). Peer relationships of bereaved siblings and comparison classmates after a child's death from cancer. Journal of Pediatric Psychology. doi: 10.1093/jpepsy/jsr082


Thompson, A. L., Miller, K. S., Barrera, M., Davies, B., Foster, T. L., Gilmer, M. J., Hogan, N., Vannatta, K., & Gerhardt, C. A. (2011). A qualitative study of advice from bereaved parents and siblings. Journal of Social Work in End-Of-Life & Palliative Care, 7(2-3), 153-172. doi: 10.1080/15524256.2011.593153


Butterworth, L., Dabbs, D., Gilmer, M. J., Greffe, B., & Hellsten, M. (2011). The art of advocacy. In B. Carter & M. Solomon (Eds.), Palliative care for infants, children, and adolescents. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins Press.


Foster, T. L., Gilmer, M. J., Davies, B., Dietrich, M. S., Barrera, M., Fairclough, D. L., Vannatta, K., & Gerhardt, C. A. (2011). Comparison of continuing bonds reported by parents and siblings after a child's death from cancer. Death Studies, 35(5), 420-440. doi: 10.1080/07481187.2011.553308


Jones, B., Gilmer, M. J., Raley, J., Dokken, D., Fryer, D., & Sydnor-Greenberg, N. (2011). Parent and sibling relationships and the family experience. In J. Wolfe, P. Hinds & B. Sourkes (Eds.), Textbook of interdisciplinary pediatric palliative care. New York: Elsevier Press.


Foster, T. L., Gilmer, M. J., Davies, B., Barrera, M., Fairclough, D., Vannatta, K., & Gerhardt, C. A. (2009). Bereaved parents’ and siblings’ reports of legacies created by children with cancer. Journal of Pediatric Oncology Nursing, 26(6), 369-376. doi: 10.1177/1043454209340322


Foster, T., & Gilmer, M. J. (2008) Continuing bonds: A human response. International Journal of Palliative Nursing, 14(2), 83-91.

Gilmer, M. J., & Carter, A. (2008). To comfort always. In B. Kennedy, & D. Ruth, (Eds.), Intrapartum management modules: A perinatal education, 4th Edition. New York, NY: Lippincott, Williams, & Wilkins.

Gilmer, M. J. (2008). Grief and loss. In Pediatric Oncology Palliative Care Guidelines, Children's Oncology Group and the Association of Pediatric Oncology Nurses.

Gilmer, M. J. (2008). Communication. In Pediatric Oncology Palliative Care Guidelines, Children's Oncology Group and the Association of Pediatric Oncology Nurses.

Caines, K., & Gilmer, M. J. (2006) Beyond "I don't know". (Abstract) Journal of Adolescent Health, 38(2), 159-160.

Koskinen, L., Jokinen, P., Blackburn, D., Gilmer, M. J., & McGill, J. (2005). Learning intercultural competence in a transatlantic nurse education project. Diversity in Social and Health Care, 99-106.


Professional Organizations

American Cancer Society Review Panel for Master's and Doctoral Fellowships

American Nurses Association

American Nurses Credentialing Center, Contributor & Reviewer (2010 – present)                                                                                             


Assessment Technologies, Inc., NCLEX Consultant & Reviewer

Children’s Oncology Group        

Oncology Nursing Society      

Hospice Palliative Nurses’ Association, Audit & Assessment Committee (2012 – 2015)

Sigma Theta Tau, International

Iota Chapter (1999-present)

Vice-President (1999-2001)

Program Chair (1999-2001)

By-Laws Committee (1999-2001)

Tennessee League for Nursing

Southern Nursing Research Society

Nominating Committee (2000-2001)