Barbara Medoff-Cooper, PhD, CRNP, RN, FAAN

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Bolstering the Science of Infant Development

In 1983, Barbara Medoff-Cooper, PhD, CRNP, RN, FAAN, used her ANF grant to study what was close to her heart—infant development. At the time, she was a pediatric nurse practitioner and a doctoral student at Temple University.

"I was seeing a number of preemies in the office," says Medoff Cooper, a Pennsylvania State Nurses Association member. "Their parents were having problems taking care of them, because the babies were so crabby, so difficult."

So for her dissertation, she and a colleague went to the parents' homes and collected a range of data about the babies, including how immature the infants were at birth, how long they were at the hospital, and what happened to them during their stay, such as any ventilator-related complications.

The goal of her research project was to see how those factors typically influenced the babies' temperament and development at 6 months of age.

The ANF grant led to numerous research projects through other funding sources, such as the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar grant program and NINR.

"I think the ANF grant gives new researchers the track record they need to get established, " Medoff-Cooper says. "It give your research a 'stamp of approval' to gain other funding sources that will support your work.

"Many people don't realize nurses can be scientists or the breadth of our work. They don't think of nursing that way."

But for 25 years, Medoff-Cooper has continued to build on the science of infant development, feeding behaviors in high-risk infants and infant temperament. In terms of the latter, she developed a questionnaire that's used around the world to assess a baby's temperament.

"I always was interested in the neurological development of high-risk infants," says Medoff-Cooper, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and director of the Center for Biobehavioral Research. "And I really want to help parents understand their kids."

Currently, Medoff-Cooper is following babies born with congenital heart disease and their families to determine what issues influence the children's growth and development.

"We know that about 50 percent are at risk for failure to thrive, in part because of their poor feeding skills and energy expenditure," she says. "Through this study, I not only want to look at the physiological issues, but also the stress placed on the family.

"It's not just about eating and growing. I want to learn how families are functioning with a child born with a serious health problem, and then develop recommendations that can help both the babies and the parents."