Himmelfarb Headlines - May / June 2019

Faculty Profile - Interview with Ashley Darcy-Mahoney, Associate Professor of Nursing and Director of Infant Research

Faculty Profile - Interview with Ashley Darcy-Mahoney, Associate Professor of Nursing and Director of Infant ResearchHimmelfarb Library continues this feature in our newsletter that lets us become better acquainted with our friends and colleagues at the George Washington University. In this issue, we learn more about Ashley Darcy-Mahoney, Associate Professor of Nursing and Director of Infant Research at GW’s Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your current position, and why you decided to pursue nursing.
Hello! My name is Ashley Darcy-Mahoney. I am an associate professor in the School of Nursing and the interim director at the Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute.

My perspective and the values that guide my work and commitments were shaped by the educational opportunities and mentors I encountered in my BSN-PhD experiences. Exposure to research early in my undergraduate education at Georgetown University taught me the value of intellectual curiosity and the fundamentals of the nursing process.

I have always wanted to work with children and families, especially in a fast-paced environment. I began my career in the Neonatal Intensive care unit caring for the most high risk infants.

As I became a practicing neonatal ICU nurse at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (2006-2010), I observed first-hand at nurse-patient NICU reunions that the developmental trajectory of my patients differed greatly and seemed to extend beyond NICU acuity and into the home environment. I became increasingly interested in and concerned about the social determinants of health and the environment in which a child grows up. Thereafter, the conjunction of social determinants and home environments became the basis for my research questions, including a later focus on cognitive disparities linked to prematurity.

How did you become interested in your field?
This elision of developmental influences served to help me bridge a common divide between public health and the ICU. I began my doctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania in 2006 directly after finishing my BSN, and I chose to complete a clinical master’s degree while pursuing the PhD. My doctoral work focused on investigating the relationship between perinatal brain injury and school performance in low-birth-weight infants. This choice has continued to serve me well in my career, as my best research questions have consistently come from the clinical environment. Drawing on my unique position as a bedside nurse in the NICU, I have continued to focus my research on the developmental consequences of prematurity, specifically the complex environmental and home factors that influence school performance outcomes in high-risk infants.

Over the course of my career, I have relied on a social justice framework to guide and unite rigorous science, research driven by clinical nursing experience, education, and continued practice to promote optimal outcomes for the population to which I am most drawn, infants and children. This social justice framework is a way of seeing and acting aimed at resisting inequity while enhancing freedom and possibility for all. In my program of research, this framework revolves around children. This framework allows me to look critically and respectfully at the work of others in other disciplines and on other topics and to learn from their science and incorporate their perspectives into a broader vision of what the future of nursing might – and should – look like.

What brought you to GW?
I came to GW because of the awesome faculty in the School of Nursing and growing focus that Dean Jeffries and her leadership has in a research intensive school. Additionally, the opening of the Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute made GW an exciting place to continue my research.

The School of Nursing’s vision also really spoke to me: “Compelled by the belief that all people deserve quality health care, we aspire to be trusted advocates for the advancement of societal well-being in the clinic, community and statehouse.”

Within my professional and academic communities, I work alongside colleagues to advance initiatives and programs that contribute to the greater good of our health in our nation. As a nurse researcher, my program of scholarship focuses on innovative early-childhood intervention strategies, including experiences and educational programs and opportunities that catalyze neurodevelopment for high-risk infants and improve life-long health. More broadly, my scholarship takes into account the social determinants of health that pose barriers to achieving health, particularly among underserved or vulnerable populations. As a nurse educator, I seek to prepare future nurses who will recognize and address the health needs of the diverse populations they will serve.

What has been your most memorable moment at GW?
My most memorable moment has been participating in our poverty simulation at the GW School of Nursing. This simulation is a big undertaking by faculty and staff to give students a greater understanding of poverty and the lives of the patients that they will care for in their career. During the simulation, participants role-play the lives of low-income families: from single parents trying to care for their children to senior citizens trying to maintain their self sufficiency on Social Security. The faculty put tremendous effort into assisting our students to understand poverty through an experiential setting and then we spend ample time debriefing with them on how they felt and how this simulated experience can help drive change in practice and policy.

What has been your biggest professional challenge?
I would say my biggest professional challenge has been balancing between my love for clinical practice and my interest in moving research forward. It is challenging to do both, but incredibly rewarding as my time in patient care really drives my research questions.

What library resources or services have you found to be the most useful?
Himmelfarb’s Health Science Library’s databases and journal access is a resource I use almost every day. Additionally, the workshops on data management and citation management have been quite useful in my research team. Similarly, Alex Gomes was embedded in my course at the School of Nursing. She really assisted the students in locating resources and using them appropriately.

Whom do you admire?
I really admire researchers that are able to cross disciplines and boundaries. Many economists come to mind like Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler for their work in behavioral economics (Nudge) and how that work has translated into better outcomes for patients. Similarly, Atul Gwande and his work with Adriande Labs where they empower researchers and innovators to find scalable solutions that make healthcare better. These are  the type of people and organizations that I really admire as their vision moves beyond one discipline and one problem and rather tries to solve difficult problems with innovative solutions.

How do you spend your free time? What do you do to relax?
I spend most of my free time with my family. My husband Kevin and I have two boys who are 4 and 2 years old and they keep us busy! Our family loves to play soccer and travel together. A good example of this is our oldest son, Jack, has been to 12 countries so far including Russia for the last men’s World Cup! We find that exploring the world with our sons, while tiring (!), enables them to witness and be a part of other cultures.  When we are in DC, we spend time watching sports and visiting our favorite museums (Building Museum and Wegman’s Wonderplace!).

I am originally from Miami and so my favorite thing to do is relax with a book by the water (and ocean is preferable, but in DC, I usually go to the river!).

What advice would you give to a new faculty member just starting at GW?

Collaborate. My best advice would be to find people outside of your discipline and your school to interact with and collaborate with on a very regular basis. These collaborations will result in work that is usually more widely disseminated, more broadly used, and generally has more application to more people. There are so many good researchers and educators here at GW. Make connections (ask others to help you make them too!).

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