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These [interdisciplinary] partnerships enrich our research and provide wonderful opportunities for the students working with us on these studies.

When Alison Montpetit, Ph.D., RN, came to the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing to complete a postdoctoral fellowship in July 2008, she knew of the school’s stellar reputation for research and collaboration.

“I chose VCU because the researchers here have a proven track record of interdisciplinary, clinically relevant research in my area,” Montpetit said.

Montpetit’s work focuses on the care of mechanically ventilated patients and hospital-acquired pneumonia. Patients on mechanical ventilators have a one-in-four chance of developing pneumonia that they did not have upon entering the hospital. Montpetit’s research examines noninvasive methods of identifying biomarkers that would indicate the onset of pneumonia. She has since become the first postdoctoral student in the VCU School of Nursing to receive a K99 grant from National Institute of Nursing Research, one of 27 institutes and centers that make up the National Institutes of Health.

“The faculty and senior investigators at VCU were so supportive of the K99 application and my work,” she said. “As a junior researcher, the experience as a postdoctoral fellow and applying for the grant has provided a solid foundation for an independent career in academic research.”

Montpetit began working with Mary Jo Grap, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN, whose research centers on the same area. Over the past 15 years, Grap and other VCU School of Nursing faculty members have built a substantial body of research focused on caring for mechanically ventilated patients. Those discoveries have positively impacted care in the ICU and improved lives for countless patients.

Working together as a team represents the future of research and no researcher illustrates the benefits of teamwork better than Grap. She and her group, which began collaborating in 1995, explored their interest in critical care, specifically issues around mechanically ventilated patients. In 1998, they received their first NINR grant studying backrest elevation and oral health in mechanically ventilated patients.

Since that first grant, collaboration remains a strong component of Grap’s work and her research still centers on the care of mechanically ventilated patients. Support from other nurse scientists and researchers in medicine, dentistry and biomedical engineering factors in as well.

“These partnerships enrich our research and provide wonderful opportunities for the students working with us on these studies,” Grap said.

In 2001, Grap further expanded her research as she received a $1.5 million R01 grant through the NINR to study “Sedation Effects in Mechanically Ventilated Patients.” Most recently, she started a new project studying the impact on backrest elevation on skin integrity on the critically ill through another NINR grant. Using a computerized pad, she measures a patient’s pressure points to determine if elevation leads to pressure ulcers. To prevent pneumonia, mechanically ventilated patients are positioned at a 45-degree angle. Grap will determine if this angle leads to pressure ulcers over time.

Now a tenure-track faculty member at the VCU School of Nursing, Montpetit says the opportunity to continue collaborating with others across the university and the VCU Medical Center simplified her decision to remain at VCU after her fellowship.

“The place to do critical care research is here at the VCU School of Nursing,” she said.

And the chance to work with Grap sealed the deal.

“She is a pioneer in critical care research,” Montpetit said of Grap. “To be mentored by her and to have the privilege to follow in her footsteps is an honor.”

Creating collaboration. Advancing science. Impacting lives.