faculty profile

Karen D'Apolito   PhD, NNP-BC, FAAN

Director, Neonatal NP Specialty


Dr. Karen D'Apolito has been involved in neonatal nursing for more than 40 years. She joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 1998 and has received faculty awards for her innovative teaching. She has served on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN) and was instrumental in the development of neonatal nursing practice guidelines as Chairperson of the NANN Practice Committee. She has also served on the Board of the National l Perinatal Association and functioned  as the Vice President for programs and Chair of the Advocacy Committee. Currently she is on the Executive Committee of the Academy of Neonatal Nursing.

In 2008, Dr. D'Apolito received the Individual Contribution to Maternal and Child Health Award from the National Perinatal Association for her work with drug-exposed infants. She has also developed an inter-observer reliability program for the Neonatal Abstinence Scoring Tool. She served as co-investigator on a multi-site NIH Grant designed to assess the severity of withdrawal in neonates born to women who were randomly treated during pregnancy with either methadone or buprenorphine. She is currently a co-investigator on a multi-site NIH grant to determine whether morphine or methadone is best for the treatment of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). She received a grant from the State of Tennessee in 2014 titled: Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome: Management Trends in Tennessee.  

Her research interests are in the area of infant adaptation and chemical dependency. She has had many publications in these areas and has published on the topic of neonatal pain.


  • PhD, University of Washington
  • Post-Master's Certificate, University of Tennessee Health Science Center
  • MSN, Case Western Reserve University
  • BSN, Trenton State College

Current Research/Scholarly Interests

  • Infant Adaptation
  • Infant Organization
  • Perinatal and Infant Drug Addiction
  • Neonatal Drug Withdrawal
  • Interventions that decrease cerebral blood flow in preterm infants


Improving Outcome in Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. Research Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). (Role: Co-Investigator), 2012 to present.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome: Management Trends in Tennessee. Research Funded by the Tennessee Department of Health Division of Family Health & Wellness. (Role: PI)

Maternal Opioid Treatment: Human Experimental Research. Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). (Role: Co-PI with Peter Martin, MD, Professor of Psychiatry & Pharmacy, Director of the Addiction Center and Addiction Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center) 2004-2009

Representative Publications


D'Apolito, K., (2016). Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome: A Growing Problem. Neonatal Network 35(5), 263-264.

Thibeau, S., D'Apolito, KL., et al., (2015). Relationships of Maternal Stress with Milk Immune Components in African American Mothers of Healthy Term Infants. Breastfeeding Medicine (pre online notification).

D'Apolito, K., (2014). Assessing Neonates for Neonatal Abstinence: Are you reliable? Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing 28(3), 220-231.

D'Apolito, K., (2013). Breastfeeding and Substance Abuse. Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, 56(1), 202-210.

D'Apolito, K. (2009). Neonatal Opiate Withdrawal: Pharmacologic Management. Newborn & Infant Nursing Reviews 9(1), 62-69.

D'Apolito, K. (2006). State of the Science: Procedural Pain Management in the Neonate. The Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing, 20(1), 56-61.

D'Apolito, K., & Hepworth, J. (2001). Most Prominent Symptoms of Withdrawal in Drug-Affected Infants. The Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing, 14(4), 46-60.

D'Apolito, K. (1999). Comparison of a Rocking Bed and Standard Bed for Decreasing Symptoms in Drug-Exposed Infants.MCN, 24(3), 138-144.

D'Apolito, K. (1991). What is an organized infant? Neonatal Network, (1), 23-29.

Guest Editor: Neonatal Section of the Journal of Perinatal & Neonatal Nursing, April/June 2008

Editorial Board Member: Neonatal Network, Journal of Perinatal & Neonatal Nursing, Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing.

Representative Presentations

Dr. D'Apolito has been invited to speak to neonatologists, neonatal nurse practitioners and staff nurses at many hospitals and conferences within the US and internationally regarding the care of infants with neonatal abstinence and the establishment of inter-observer reliability using the Neonatal Abstinence Scoring Tool.

Tennessee Initiative for Perinatal Quality Care (TIPQC) in the development of a tool kit for the care of an infant with neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.


Editorial Board Member:

  • Journal of Human Lactation
  • Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing
  • Journal of Perinatal & Neonatal Nursing
  • Neonatal Network

Professional Organizations

  • Academy of Neonatal Nursing, Executive Committee, 2016 - present
  • National Perinatal Association, Vice President, Programs, 2009-2013
  • SNRS Ethics Committee, Chair, 2006-2009
  • Abstract Reviewer, MNRS, 2005-2007
  • HRSA Grant Reviewer, 2007-Present
  • Foundation for Neonatal Research and Education, Board Member, 2009-Present
  • NAAN Board Member, 1995 - 1998


2012: Fellow, American Academy of Nursing

2008: National Perinatal Association's Individual Contribution to Maternal Child Health Award, that honors an individual who has contributed tirelessly and largely behind the scenes to enhance the maternal child health cause.

2004: Vanderbilt University School of Nursing Excellence in Educational Innovation Award