faculty profile

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



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 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. Research interests include parent-sibling bereavement, parent-child communication, and interventions to reduce suffering in children with 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.

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. Her pilot work is currently underway, and an important potential outcome of this study is an expansion of a nursing-driven model of care that will improve long-term psychosocial health through widespread sustainable interventions that lower healthcare costs.


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


Impact of a PCRC-Facilitated Legacy Intervention in Pediatric Palliative Care. Funded by PCRC RO1. (Role Co-PI) 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) 1/1/14-3/31/16

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

Symptom Clusters and Quality of life among Families in Pediatric Palliative Care. Funded by Vanderbilt Institute of Clinical & Translational Research, (NIH/NCRR) (Role: PI) 3/8/10-9/8/10

Pediatric Advanced Comfort Team. Funded by Children's Fund (Role: Co-I with Brian Carter, MD) 7/01/06-06/30/07

Representative Publications


Akard, T.F., Gilmer, M.J., Miller, K., Steele, A.C., Hancock, K., Barrera, M., Compas, B., Davies, B., Dietrich, M.S., Fairclough, D.L., Hogan, N.S., Vannatta, K., & Gerhardt, C.A. (2014). Factors affecting recruitment and participation of bereaved parents and siblings in grief research. Progress in Palliative Care, 22(2), 75-79. doi: 10.1179/1743291X13Y.0000000071

Akard, T. F., Gilmer, M.J., Friedman, D. L., Given, B., Hendricks-Ferguson, V. L., & Hinds, P. S. (2013). From Qualitative Work to Intervention Development in Pediatric Oncology Palliative Care Research. Journal of Pediatric Oncology Nursing, 30(3), 153-160. doi: 10.1177/1043454213487434

Gilmer, M.J. (2013). 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.

Foster, T.L., Roth, M., Contras, R., Gilmer, M.J., & Gordon, J.E. (2012). Continuing bonds reported by bereaved individuals in Ecuador. Bereavement Care, 31(3), 120-128. doi: DOI:10.1080/02682621.2012.740290

Gilmer, M.J., Foster, T. L., Vannatta, K., Barrera, M., Davies, B., Dietrich, M. S., Fairclough, D. L., Grollman, J., & Gerhardt, C. A. (2012). Changes in Parents After the Death of a Child from Cancer. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 44(4), 572-582. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2011.10.017

Foster, T. L., Bell, C. J., & Gilmer, M.J. (2012). Symptom management of spiritual suffering in pediatric palliative care. Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing, 14(2), 109-115. doi: 10.1097/NJH.0b013e3182491f4b

Foster, T. L., Bell, C. J., McDonald, C. F., Harris, J. S., & Gilmer, M.J. (2012). Palliative nursing care for children and adolescents with cancer. Journal of Nursing: Research and Reviews, 2, 17- 25. doi: https://www.dovepress.com/palliative-nursing-care-for-children-and-adolescents-with-cancer-peer-revi...

Foster, T.L., Dietrich, M.S., Firedman, D.L., Gordon, J.E., & Gilmer, M.J. (2012). National survey of children's hospitals on legacy-making activities. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 15(5), 573-578. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2011.0447

Gilmer, M.J., Foster, T. L., Vannatta, K., Barrera, M., Davies, B., Dietrich, M. S., Fairclough, D. L., Grollman, J., & Gerhardt, C. A. (2012). Changes in parents after death of a child. Abstracts of the 7th World Research Congress of the European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC). Palliative Medicine, 26(4), 484.

Gilmer, M.J., Foster, T. L., Bell, C. J., Mulder, J. & Carter, B. S. (2012, Epub ahead of print). Parental perceptions of care of children at end-of-life. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, 30(1), 59-64. doi: 10.1177/1049909112440836, PMID: 22495794

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.

Carter, B. S., Gilmer, M.J., Swann, R., & Jones, P. (2010). Many faces of pediatric palliative care [abstract]. Paper presented at the Annual Assembly of American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine & Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association, Boston, MA.

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

Gilmer, M.J. (2009). Developmental and behavioral science. Pediatric nursing review and resources manual (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Nurses Credentialing Center.

Gilmer, M.J. (2009). Basic and applied sciences. Pediatric nursing review and resources manual (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Nurses Credentialing Center.

Gilmer, M.J. (2009). Major health problems: Acute and chronic Pediatric nursing review and resources manual (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Nurses Credentialing Center.

Foster, T. L., & Gilmer, M.J. (2008). Continuing bonds: A human response within pediatric palliative care. International journal of palliative nursing, 14(2), 85-91.

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.

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.

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