Martha Curley, PhD, RN, FAAN

Martha A.Q. Curley, PhD, RN, FAAN

Ruth M. Colket Endowed Chair in Pediatric Nursing, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Professor of Nursing

Professor of Anesthesia and Critical Care Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine

As a leading clinical researcher in nurse-implemented therapies for acute respiratory failure in critically ill pediatric patients, Martha A.Q. Curley’s work has transformed many aspects of pediatric critical care.

Dr. Curley has served as principal investigator on more than $38 million in federal research grants and served as co-investigator on another $35 million in federally-funded research, including serving as the principal investigator on major clinical trials in pediatric critical care.

It’s really exciting to see the patient and family impact of my work in clinical settings across the globe.


  • PhD, Boston College, 1997 
  • MSN, Yale University, 1987 
  • BS, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 1985 
  • Diploma in Nursing, Springfield Hospital School of Nursing, 1973

Social Justice

As a researcher involved with critically ill children worldwide, I strive to create equity in healthcare. Currently, my research strives to improve standards of care and identify the needs of all families and their critically ill children while in the hospital. We hope to help break down barriers that many families disproportionately face in healthcare in the pursuit of social justice.


Dr. Curley’s passion for the practice of critical care, especially nurse-led therapies that contribute to improved patient outcomes, centers her research. PROSpect: Prone and Oscillation Pediatric Clinical Trial, Dr. Curley’s current research, is a 45-site international study is to identify the best positional and/or ventilation practice that leads to improved patient outcomes in critically ill children with PARDS (Pediatric Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome). 

Thanks to Dr. Curley’s collaborative research, providers worldwide have tools to assess critically ill children. These include the Braden QD scale for predicting pressure ulcers, the State Behavioral Scale for sedation of infants and young children on mechanical ventilators, and the Withdrawal Assessment Tool for opioid and benzodiazepine withdrawal. Dr. Curley also developed the Individualized Numeric Rating Scale to assess pain levels in children with severe intellectual disabilities who cannot speak. 

Environments for Healing in Pediatric ICUs

Currently, Dr. Curley is investigating how nurses can create environments conducive to healing in pediatric ICUs. Methods being studied include supporting parents of critically ill children, embedding a child’s normal sleep patterns and circadian rhythms into his/her hospitalized day, and modulating light and noise in the ICU to help children feel comforted.

Clinical Practice

Dr. Curley helped to develop the American Association of Critical Care Nursing’s Synergy Model for Patient Care, which bases nursing care on the needs of the patient and family. This model is now integrated into nursing curricula and the association’s credentialing programs, linking evidence-based clinical practice with patient outcomes.

Opportunities to Learn and Collaborate at Penn Nursing

Undergraduates become researchers in Dr. Curley’s Nursing 389: Clinical Inquiry. With her current research on recreating environments conducive to healing in pediatric intensive care patients, students learn to conduct systematic literature reviews on light, sleep, and circadian rhythms. They engage in research tasks such as testing a circadian rhythm questionnaire for families, because the first step in maintaining a child’s normal routine is discovering it. They also visit the pediatric critical care unit at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to collect data directly from patients and nurses.

Dr. Curley works frequently with doctoral students interested in pediatric critical care, including on cognitive follow-up related to post intensive care syndrome. In addition to advising Penn Nursing graduate students, Dr. Curley sits on doctoral committees for students at other U.S. and global universities. Her secondary appointment at Penn medical school allows Dr. Curley to work across disciplines, sharing data from her clinical trials on critical care and strengthening ties with providers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, whose work benefits from and informs her research.

Selected Career Highlights

  • Principal investigator, RESTORE, clinical trial funded by National Heart, Lung, & Blood Institute regarding resilience in critically ill children
  • Principal investigator, PROSpect, a pediatric prone and oscillation clinical trial funded by National Institute of Nursing Research 
  • Drs. Vidyasagar and Nagamani Dharmapuri Award, Society of Critical Care Medicine
  • Marion Barrett Lecture at the University of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia
  • Elected a member of the National Academy of Medicine, formerly the IOM
  • Anna Reynvaan Lecture in Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Distinguished Contributions to Nursing Research Award from the Eastern Nursing Research Society (ENRS)
  • Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame, Sigma Theta Tau, International Honor Society of Nursing
  • Claire M. Fagin Distinguished Researcher Award, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing
  • American College of Critical Care Medicine Distinguished Investigator Award, Society of Critical Care Medicine 
  • Distinguished Research Lecturer Award, American Association of Critical Care Nurses 
  • Selected as one of “90 Nurses for 90 Years,” Yale University School of Nursing 

Accepting Mentees?

  • Yes

Accepting Fellows?

  • No

Selected Publications

  • *Staveski, S.L., Pickler, R.H., Khourdy, P …… Curley, M.A.Q. (2021) Prevalence of ICU Delirium in Postoperative Pediatric Cardiac Surgery Patients. Pediatr Crit Care Med. ediatr Crit Care Med. Jan 1;22(1):68-78. (PMID: 33065733)

  • *Natale JE, Asaro LA, Joseph JG, Ulysse C. Ascenzi J, Bowens C, Wypij D, Curley MAQ. for the Randomized Evaluation of Sedation Titration for Respiratory Failure (RESTORE) Study Investigators (2021). Association of Race and Ethnicity with Sedation Management in Pediatric Intensive Care. Ann Am Thorac Soc;18(1):93-102. (PMID: 32776853; PMCID: PMC7780975)

  • *Lebet, R., Hasbani, N.R., Sisko, M.T., Agus, M.S.D., Nadkarni, V.M., Wypij, D., Curley, M.A.Q. (2021). Nurse Perceptions of Workload Burden in Pediatric Critical Care. Am J Crit Care; 30:27-35.

  • *Sorce, L.R., Schoeny, M.E., Curley, M.A.Q., Meier, P.P. (2020) Are mothers certain about their perceptions of recalled infant feeding history? J Pedia Health Care. S0891-5245(20)30232-7. (PMID: 33020013)

  • *Kohne, J.G., Dahmer, M.K., Weeks, H.M., Kaciroti, N., Quasney, M.W., Sapru, A., Curley, M.A.Q., Matthay, M., Flori, H.R. (2020) Impact of bilateral infiltrates on inflammatory biomarker levels and clinical outcomes of children with oxygenation defect. Crit Care Med
    2020; 48:e498–e504.

  • *Carlton, E.F., Weeks, H., Dahmer, M., Quasney, M., Sapru, A., Curley, M.A.Q., Flori, H. (in review) Inflammatory Biomarkers Are Associated with a Decline in Functional Status at Discharge in Children with Acute Respiratory Failure: An Exploratory Analysis

  • *Costa Monteiro, A.C., Flori, H., Dahmer, M.K., Sim, M.S., Quasney, M.W., Curley, M.A.Q., Matthay, M.A., Sapru, A. (in review). Thrombomodulin is Associated with Increased Mortality and Organ Failure in Mechanically Ventilated Children with Respiratory Failure.

  • *Kachmar, A.G., Wypij, D., Curley, M.A.Q. (in review). The association of socioeconomic status with illness severity upon PICU admission in children with acute respiratory failure.

  • *Rad, L., Carter, B., Curley, M.A.Q., Copnell, B., Tume, L.N. (in review). Endotracheal Suctioning by PICU Nurses does not always reflect best-available evidence: An International E-Cross Sectional Survey of Practice.

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Living Legend Designation for Penn Nursing Professor

The American Academy of Nursing has named Martha A.Q. Curley, PhD, RN, FAAN, Professor of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and the Ruth M. Colket Endowed Chair in Pediatric Nursing Science at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a Living Legend. This honor is bestowed upon a person who has made significant contributions to nursing and health care over the course of their career. The official designation will be made at the Academy’s 2023 Health Policy Conference: Celebrating 50 Years of Leadership, Policy, and Partnerships, to be held October 5-7, 2023. This is the Academy’s highest honor.

Read MoreLiving Legend Designation for Penn Nursing Professor