faculty profile

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

Director, Pediatric Palliative Care Research Team


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. Her research focus is enhancing care of children with life-threatening conditions through establishment of a core palliative care service at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital. Currently she is Co-Director of the Pediatric Palliative Care Research Team. Specific interests include parent-sibling bereavement, parent-child communication, and interventions to reduce suffering in children with cancer.

Dr. Gilmer's newest pioneering project has the potential of not only advancing knowledge in both the pediatric oncology and animal-assisted therapy (AAI) fields through rigorous and groundbreaking research, but, more importantly, greatly improving childhood cancer treatment by lending credibility to an adjunctive treatment modality aimed at providing meaningful comfort of a therapy dog.


  • PhD, University of North Carolina
  • MBA, Queens University
  • MSN, University of Illinois
  • BSN, Michigan State University

Current Research/Scholarly Interests

  • Pediatric Palliative Care
  • Animal-Assisted Interactions with Children with Advanced Cancer
  • Legacy-making in Pediatric Palliative Care
  • Songwriting Interventions with Children with Chronic Illness

Academic Interests

  • Pediatric Palliative Care
  • Legal and Ethical Environments
  • Healthcare Economics and Finance
  • Research


Human-animal interactions (HAI) to improve reading fluency and comprehension for children with learning differences Role: Co-I 1/1/22-12/31/23

Exploring the Impact of Human-Animal Interactions on Children with Life-Threatening Conditions and their Parents. Funded by NIH/NICHD R21, (Role: PI); 3/1/2020-2/28/2023

A Nurse-Led Storytelling Intervention for Rural Pediatric Palliative Care Populations. Funded by the Rita and Alex Hillman Foundation, (Role: Co-I), 1/1/2021-12/31/2021

Effects of Animal-Assisted Interactions on Quality of Life in Children with Life-Threatening Conditions and their Parents. Funded by the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute, (Role: PI), 1/1/2019-12/30/2022

An Exploratory Study of Communication as Part of Palliative Care during End-of-Life. Funded by the Center for Effective Health Communication, (Role: PI), 1/20/2017-7/30/2017

Impact of a PCRC-Facilitated Legacy Intervention in Pediatric Palliative Care. Funded by PCRC RO1. (Role Co-I) 9/26/14-9/25/18

Canines and Childhood Cancer: Examining the Effects of Therapy Dogs with Childhood Cancer Patients and their Families. Funded by Zoetis Animal Health, (Role: Site PI), 1/1/2014-12/31/2018

Sibling and Parent Bereavement from Childhood Cancer. Funded by NCI R01 CA098217-01. (Role: Site PI) 8/1/05-7/31/10

Representative Publications


Cowfer, B., Akard, TF., & Gilmer, M.J. (2021). Animal-assisted interventions for children with advanced cancer: Child and parent perceptions. Palliative Medicine Reports, 2(1), 328-334. DOI: 10.1089/pmr.2021.0039 

Walker, H., Miller, M.C., Cowfer, B., Akard, TF., & Gilmer, M.J. (Dec, 2021). Protocol of a pilot study of theeffects of animal-assisted interactions (AAI) on quality of life in children with life-threatening conditionsand their parents. International Journal of Palliative Care Nursing 27(10), 524-530. DOI: 10.12968/ijpn. 2021.27.10.524   

Kenney, A. E., Tutelman, P. R., Fisher, R. S., Lipak, K. G., Barrera, M., Gilmer, MJ., Fairclough, D., Akard, T. F., Compas, B. E., Davies, B., Hogan, N. S., Vannatta, K., Gerhardt, C. A. (2021). Impact of end-of-life circumstances on the adjustment of bereaved siblings of children who died from cancer.  Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings. DOI: 10.1007/s10880-021-09797-x

Akard, T.F, Dietrich, M.S., Friedman, D.L., Gerhardt, C.A., Given, B., Hendrick-Ferguson, V., Hinds, P.S., Ridner, S.H., Beckmann, N., & Gilmer, M.J. (2021). Improved parent-child communication following a RCT evaluating a legacy intervention for children with advanced cancer, Progress in Palliative Care, 29:3, 130-139. DOI: 10.1080/09699260.2020.1826778

Akard, T.F., Dietrich, M.S., Friedman, D.L., Wray, S., Gerhardt, C.A., Given, B., Hendricks-Ferguson, V.L., Hinds, P.S., Cho, E., & Gilmer, M.J. (2021). Effects of a web-based pediatric oncology legacy intervention on parental coping. Oncology Nursing Forum, 48(3), 309-316. DOI: 10.1188/21.onf.309-316 

Cho, E., Gilmer, M.J., Friedman, D.L., Hendricks-Ferguson, V.L., Hinds, P.S., & Akard, T.F. (2021). Facebook recruitment for children with advanced cancer and their parents: lessons from a web-based pediatric palliative intervention study. Progress in Palliative Care 29:5, 264-271. DOI: 10.1080/09699260.2021.1898077

Beckmann, N.B., Dietrich, M.S., Hooke, C., Gilmer, M.J., & Akard, T.F. (2021). Parental posttraumatic growth after pediatric hematopoietic stem cell transplant. Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing, 23(4), 331-338. DOI: 10.1097/NJH.0000000000000759

Beckmann, N., Dietrich, M.S., Hooke, C., Gilmer, M.J., & Akard, T.F. (2021). Parent caregiving experiences and posttraumatic growth following pediatric hematopoietic stem cell transplant. Journal of Pediatric Oncology Nursing, 38(4), 242-253. DOI: 10.1177/1043454221992306

Akard, T.F., Davis, K., Hills, T., Lense, M., Kim, D., Webber, R., Dietrich, M.S., & Gilmer, M.J. (2021). Songwriting intervention for cognitively-impaired children with life-limiting conditions: Study protocol. Contemporary Clinical Trials Communications, 22. DOI: 10.1016/j.conctc.2021.100765

Akard, T.F., Dietrich, M.S., Friedman, D.L., Wray, S., Gerhardt, C., Hendricks-Ferguson, V., Hinds, P.S., Rhoten, B., & Gilmer, M.J. (2021). Randomized clinical trial of a legacy intervention for quality of life in children with advanced cancer. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 24(5), 680-688.  DOI: 10.1089/jpm.2020.0139

Akard, T.F., Gilmer, M.J. (2020). Research cooperative groups in pediatric palliative care research. Palliative Medicine Reports, 1(1), 321-325. DOI: 10.1089/pmr.2020.0043 

Akard, TF, Wray, S., Friedman, D.L., Dietrich, M.S., Hendricks-Ferguson, V., Given, B., Gerhardt, C.A., Hinds, P.S., & Gilmer, M.J. (2020) Transforming a face-to-face legacy intervention to a web-based legacy intervention for children with advanced cancer. Journal of Hospice & Palliative Nursing, 22(1), 49-60. DOI: 10.1097/NJH.0000000000000614 

Akard, T.F., Dietrich, M.S., Friedman, D. L., Gerhardt, C.A., Given, B., Hendricks-Ferguson, V., Hinds, P., Ridner, S., Beckmann, N., & Gilmer, M.J. (2020). Improved Parent-Child Communication following a RCT Evaluating a Legacy Intervention for Children with Advanced Cancer. Progress in Palliative Care. DOI: 10.1080/09699260.20201826778

Akard, T.F., Dietrich, M.S., Friedman, D. L., Gerhardt, C.A., Given, B., Hendricks-Ferguson, V., Hinds, P., Ridner, S., Beckmann, N., & Gilmer, M.J. (2020). Randomized Clinical Trial of a Legacy Intervention for Quality of Life in Children with Advanced Cancer. Journal of Palliative Medicine. Published Online: 30 Sep 2020 DOI:10.1089/jpm.2020.0139


Gilmer, M.J. (2012). Care of the child with life-limiting conditions and the child's family in the pediatric critical care unit. In M.F Hazinski (Eds.) Nursing Care of the Critically Ill Child, (3rd Ed.) St. Louis, MO: Elsevier, Inc. pp. 51-65.

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.

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

Frader, J., Morgan, D., Levinson, R., Morrow, J., Saroyan, J., Gilmer, M.J., & Carter, B. (2004). Barriers to pediatric palliative care. In B. Carter, M. Solomon, (Eds.), Palliative Care for Infants, Children, and Adolescents: A Practical Handbook. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins Press.

Representative Presentations

Smith, L., Darling, A., Giorgione, R., Akard, T., & Gilmer, M.J., (July, 2019). Parent and Child Preferences for Communication About Cancer. Presented at Sigma Theta Tau, 30th International Research Congress, Calgary, Canada.

Clarkson, G. & Gilmer, M.J. (2017, July) Factors affecting time nurses spend with fathers in the neonatal intensive care unit. Paper presented at the 8th International Nursing Research Congress, Dublin, Ireland.

Gilmer, M.J., Akard, T.F., Smith, L.E., & Ruehrdanz, A. (June, 2017). Enhanced Quality of Life for Pediatric Cancer Patients and their Parents through Animal-Assisted Interventions. 13th International Family Nursing Association, Conference, Pamplona, Spain

McDonald, J., Xu, E., Baudino, M., Cella, A., Akard, T., Ruehrdanz, A., & Gilmer, M.J. (September, 2015). Therapy dogs: Pediatric center clinic's special agents. Lecture presentation online for the International Palliative Care Network.

Professional Organizations

  • American Academy of Nursing
  • American Cancer Society Review Panel for Master's and Doctoral Fellowships
  • American Nurses Association
  • American Nurses Credentialing Center, Contributor & Reviewer (2010 - Present)
  • Children's Oncology Group
  • Oncology Nursing Society
  • Hospice Palliative Nurses' Association
  • Sigma Theta Tau, International
  • Southern Nursing Research Society


  • Star Award for Leadership in Cancer Clinical Research, Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center, 2021
  • Sigma Theta Tau International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame, 2020
  • Invited Lean-In Featured Speaker, The Ohio State University, 2018
  • Featured Researcher on CNN Health Highlights, 2017
  • Research Nurse of the Year, March of Dimes, 2017
  • Research Poster Award, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center Annual Scientific Retreat, 2016
  • Dean's Award for Faculty Achievement in Media, 2015
  • Outstanding Leader, The International Women's Leadership Association, 2015
  • Nashville Business Journal's 2015 Health Care Hero, 2015
  • Outstanding Research Poster Award, Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association, 2014
  • Ingeborg Mauksch Award for Mentoring, Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, 2013
  • Featured Author, University of Tennessee. Changes in Parents After the Death of a Child from Cancer, 2013
  • Pediatric Nurse of the Year, March of Dimes, 2011
  • Fellow in the American Academy of Nurses, 2010
  • Distinguished Alumna, Michigan State University, 2010