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Nurse Scientist Contributes Expertise to International Research Collaboration

Published on April 16, 2024 in Cornerstone Blog · Last updated 1 week 2 days ago


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Dr. Thornton

Dr. Thornton is a founding member of the SUCCESS Lab, a consortium dedicated to improving educational support for childhood cancer survivors.

schweigl [at] (By Lorene Schweig)

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2024 edition of "The Pulse," an internal eNewsletter published by the Department of Nursing and Clinical Care Services at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

A consortium of interprofessional researchers who work together in the U.S. to improve educational support for survivors of childhood cancer will conduct a series of research studies in Ireland to help colleagues improve education transitions after cancer in their country.

Clifton Thornton, PhD, MSN, RN, CPNP, CHOP nurse scientist and clinician specializing in pediatric oncology, is a founding member of SUCCESS Lab, which pools expertise in nursing science, neuropsychology, and education. SUCCESS Lab researchers developed a transdisciplinary approach to help children, adolescents, and young adults succeed academically after cancer.

The team has designed evidence-based educational support programs and communication tools that help families talk about their children's education needs with clinicians. They've led research validating this work, which has been published in dozens of peer-reviewed journals and presented at numerous scientific conferences.

It was at one of these presentations in Ireland that faculty from Maynooth University and Trinity College Dublin first met Dr. Thornton and one of his SUCCESS Lab partners, Lisa Carey, EdD, a teacher educator and researcher. This initial meeting ultimately resulted in an international collaboration that will use the transdisciplinary approach to develop educational support programs to be implemented throughout Ireland. Childhood Cancer Ireland, a parent-led charity, has funded the two-year program.

"We're honored to receive this recognition and support from a parent-led organization because our guiding vision has always been to improve educational experiences and outcomes for these children, adolescents, and young adults," Dr. Thornton said. "Education is not only a symbol for the 'return to normalcy' after cancer, but also a pivotal social health determinant that influences employment, financial stability, critical thinking skills, and social networks, which improve overall health and quality of life."

Through their research, Dr. Thornton and the SUCCESS Lab team found that U.S. educators frequently do not understand how cancer and its treatments can affect children's neurocognitive functioning and their mental and social health. Similarly, pediatric oncology clinicians often express difficulties with navigating the new special education needs of their patients and the complexities involved in advocating for student aid.

"Many remain unaware of the serious educational challenges endured by survivors of childhood cancer and those who are still undergoing treatment," Dr. Thornton said. "These challenges arise from several factors, which include new neurocognitive deficits caused by cancer and its treatments that permanently disrupt thinking and learning abilities, healthcare needs that remove children from the school environment for long periods, and commonly experienced symptoms such as fatigue, chronic pain and changes in vision and hearing, that further impede learning."

The SUCCESS Lab team's work in Ireland will encompass a series of research studies, evidence-based practice and quality improvement initiatives that will help the international team learn about the current landscape of school reintegration after cancer in Ireland.

They will engage with patient, family, clinical and education stakeholders across the country to identify barriers and collect data that will inform student-centered transdisciplinary strategies. The overarching goal of this work is to develop evidence-based resources for families, clinicians, and educators that improve reintegration to school after cancer so that children can learn to their highest potential.

"Dr. Thornton is building a strong research program in this area, with a concentrated focus on the specific needs of adolescents and young adults," said Margaret McCabe, PhD, RN, FAAN, senior director, Center for Pediatric Nursing Research & Evidence-Based Practice. "We're proud of the work he's leading that has garnered new opportunities for international collaboration and the expansion of studies aimed at advancing educational outcomes for survivors of childhood cancer, both at CHOP and around the world."

SUCCESS Lab members represent Kennedy Krieger Institute, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, the Johns Hopkins School of Education and CHOP.