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Celebrate Diversity Month: Q&A With Featured Research Trainee Mallory Perry, PhD, RN

Published on
April 8, 2021
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Mallory Perry, PhD, RN is a CHOP Diversity Postdoctoral Fellow

Editor’s note: To honor Celebrate Diversity Month, our Featured Research Trainee in April is Mallory Perry, PhD, RN, a nurse scientist and a participant in the Postdoctoral Fellowship for Academic Diversity program at CHOP’s Research Institute. Before undertaking her PhD at the University of Connecticut School of Nursing, she worked as a nurse in a pediatric intensive care unit, and her research interests lie in pediatric critical care outcomes. In this Q&A, Dr. Perry discusses her research, her experience as a CHOP Fellow for Academic Diversity, and the importance of Celebrate Diversity Month.

Q: What does Celebrate Diversity Month mean to you?

To me, Celebrate Diversity Month is a multifaceted initiative recognizing the rich diversity that we all possess, whether it be racial, gender, cultural, etc. We all have our own inherent characteristics that make us unique, and Celebrate Diversity Month is a time to honor that. As healthcare providers, we often see diversity in many forms. Acknowledging its presence and celebrating it is of the utmost importance.

Q: Tell us about your experience thus far as a Diversity Fellow

My experience as a Diversity Fellow has been a necessary and instrumental step in my career trajectory. I am very grateful for this program! As a Diversity Fellow, I have had several opportunities to advance my research career in ways I may not have been able to otherwise. These opportunities include mentorship by accomplished researchers, access to the rich resources at both CHOP and Penn, and the opportunity to network and collaborate with a cadre of interdisciplinary scientists. I am thankful for CHOP providing programs like the Diversity Fellowship to give opportunities to diverse people like me — a nurse scientist and a Black woman.

Q: Why is it important to you that nurses have the opportunity to pursue research careers?

Nurses, physicians, and other healthcare providers work together daily to provide the highest level of care to our patients. Despite our day-to-day interdisciplinary work, much of the biomedical research we come into contact with is conducted by physician-scientists and basic scientists. As such, the nursing voice is often unheard. While the ultimate goal of both nurses and physicians is to improve outcomes for our patients, diverse viewpoints can help inform our research questions, enrich our methods of inquiry, and expand the existing body of literature. I am a genomics nurse-scientist, which incorporates clinical research and bench-to-bedside translation.

Interdisciplinary collaboration is never a bad thing! While a physician may be interested in a certain aspect of a disease and/or condition, a nursing lens can further inform other aspects of those questions, including the patient, health, nursing processes, and environment. The scope of practice for physicians and nurses may be different, but the goal is the same: to improve patient outcomes.

Q: Tell us about yourself, your background, and your academic journey.

Prior to returning to school for a PhD, I was (and still am) a pediatric critical care nurse. I worked in a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) in Hartford, CT. As a PICU nurse, I was always curious as to what happens after a critically ill child recovers and leaves the PICU. Oftentimes, the therapy we provide, while lifesaving, can have long-term effects on a child’s overall well-being (physical, emotional, cognitive and social).

I decided to pursue a PhD in Nursing at the University of Connecticut School of Nursing with a focus on postsurgical pain outcomes, namely for spinal fusion surgery patients, and differential gene expression. While this dissertation research provided the groundwork for my program of research, it took me out of the PICU a bit.

For this reason, I decided to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at CHOP with Martha A.Q. Curley, RN, PhD. With Dr. Curley, I have been involved in several NIH-funded studies, including interventional trials and observational studies, to improve the function of children post-PICU. I have also had the opportunity to collaborate with several CHOP investigators: Scott Cook-Sather, MD, to create computational phenotypes; and Athena Zuppa, MD, MSCE, and Scott Weiss, MD, MSCE, to investigate the role of inflammatory biomarkers on post-PICU outcomes.

Q: What are some research projects you are working on? Why is your work important?

Currently, I am working with my mentor on the start-up of her NIH-funded observational study, Post-Intensive Care Syndrome Pediatrics (PICS-p). Additionally, I was recently awarded a grant from the Association of Critical Care Nurses to conduct a secondary data analysis of Dr. Curley’s past data from her NIH-funded RESTORE clinical trial to explore the association between acute inflammation and post-PICU physical morbidity.

I hope that the findings from this research will inform potential interventions to optimize functional recovery in children after critical illness. This work is important as a majority of children are (thankfully) surviving critical illness. It is imperative that we no longer use survival alone as the barometer for clinical success. We must further investigate the post-PICU quality of life and function of children as they return to everyday life.

Q: What are some of the most salient training experiences you have had at CHOP thus far? What has been most beneficial for you as a trainee?

One of the most salient training experiences for me at CHOP has been the breadth of resources afforded by CHOP and Penn. The ability to be a CHOP postdoc, but also have availability of Penn resources, has been a great asset to my budding program of research. In addition, the mentorship I have received from not only my primary mentor, Dr. Curley, but also secondary mentorship by physician scientists in the CHOP PICU has been instrumental.

Additionally, being a Diversity Fellow, I have been able to engage in the surrounding community. I have been fortunate to work with the Office of Academic Outreach and Training Programs to speak with local students who may be interested in pursuing careers in the biomedical or nursing science fields. Engaging with and reaching minority youth populations is non-negotiable to me, as I was given so much.

Q: What else fills your days besides work?

Aside from research, I am a proud dog mom to Tyson! He’s 20 pounds of pure pug muscle. I’m also recently engaged, which has been a welcome joy during COVID times. My fiancé and I met while in undergrad at University of Connecticut. We love (and miss during COVID times) live music and being foodies.

In my free time, I love to kickbox. During COVID, I purchased a heavy bag system, and I’m able to kickbox from the comforts of my own home while staying safe. It’s an amazing stress reliever. A fun fact about myself is that I have been featured in print ads for a popular weight loss program quite a few times. I am still waiting for my chance to officially meet Oprah!