Catherine C. McDonald, PhD, RN, FAAN

Catherine C. McDonald, PhD, RN, FAAN

Associate Professor of Nursing
Vice-Chair, Department of Family and Community Health

Associate Professor of Pediatric Nursing, Perelman School of Medicine

Injury, which is largely preventable, is the leading cause of death in adolescents in the U.S.

Catherine McDonald, PhD, RN, FAAN is a pediatric nurse scientist with a focused program of research aimed at promoting health and reducing injury in youth. She leads a strong portfolio of research on adolescent injury prevention funded by the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control. She has published over 80 peer-reviewed journal articles on injury prevention related to children and adolescents, in the topics of driving behaviors, motor vehicle crashes, child passenger safety, concussion, and community violence exposure. McDonald is Co-Director of the PENN Injury Science Center (PISC)-a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) funded Injury Control Research Center. She has led research initiatives in the development of interventions for young drivers, as well as randomized controlled trial design, novel assessment of adolescent driver behavior, and recruitment and long-term retention of adolescent drivers. In her collaboration with the Minds Matter Concussion Program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), she contributes to the advances related to school health and identifying implications for returning to driving after concussion. She is also the Nursing Discipline Director for the Leadership Education in Adolescent Health Program at CHOP.

Injury is the leading cause of death in adolescents and addressing behaviors that contribute to injury is of vital importance in promoting later adult health.


  • PhD, University of Pennsylvania, 2010
  • MSN, Monmouth University, 2006
  • BSN, Villanova University, 2000


Dr. McDonald’s research examines the complex interplay of factors that contribute to adolescent morbidity and mortality associated with injury. Dr. McDonald’s scholarly contributions to adolescent injury prevention inform strategies to promote health and prevent negative health outcomes. As one of the few nurse scientists with a program of research in injury science, she collaborated with researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to develop a Simulated Driving Assessment (SDA), which gave teens an opportunity in a simulator to drive in the most frequent serious crash scenarios. Her expertise in driving simulation as a nurse scientist is critical, as she can rigorously assess adolescent driving behaviors in a safe, controlled environment, while being able to draw in the public health and clinical implications.

Social Justice

Dr. McDonald’s research seeks to help improve the health of adolescents, where injury is the leading cause of death. When children and adolescents have the opportunity to attain their highest level of health and wellness, their health outcomes as adults can be improved. In identifying factors that contribute to adolescent injury morbidity and mortality, she seeks to help support policies and structures that can provide equitable opportunities for positive adolescent health outcomes. In her teaching and research training with mentees, she works to instill the foundational tenets of how nurses can play a key role in reducing factors that disadvantage or harm vulnerable groups.


Dr. McDonald was a seminar leader for the Nature of Nursing Practice (NURS 101) and Situation the Practice of Nursing (102), two core freshman courses in the PENN BSN program. In addition, she was Course Director for NURS 102, which involved large lecture didactic, seminar simulation and observational clinical experience. She has guest lectured on the topic of adolescent health in courses such as Psychological and Social Diversity in Health and Wellness (NURS 103), Nursing in the Community (NURS 380), and Adolescent and Young Adult Health and Health Policy (PUB 570).


As a pediatric intensive care, emergency department, and school nurse, Dr. McDonald saw the effects of the risky behaviors that teens engage in firsthand. Now, her research not only examines risky behaviors, but also other strategies to address adolescent injury prevention. Since joining the Penn Nursing faculty in 2014, Dr. McDonald has carried out research to better understand and reduce risky driving behaviors in adolescents using driving simulation, on-road data collection and self-report surveys. As an M-PI on a CDC-funded study on cellphone use in adolescents, Dr. McDonald and colleagues will examine space-time characteristics of cellphone use while driving in adolescents to help identify high and low risk scenarios that can be used towards interventions to reduce distraction related motor vehicle crashes.

Dr. McDonald’s current R01 examines returning to drive after concussion in adolescents. Although there are guidelines for return to school and play, there are no evidence-based guidelines for returning to drive. The long-term goal is to establish the evidence base for return to drive recommendations for adolescents after a concussion. The objective is to examine the neurophysiological functioning of the recovering concussed adolescent brain while managing driving tasks, the association between their neurophysiological functioning and clinical assessments, and the nature of concussed adolescents’ engagement in risky driving behaviors. In this synergistic study, they will employ driving simulation, fNIRS, and pupillometry as measures of neurophysiological function; examine the association of these objective measures with clinical assessments; and prospectively quantify driving behaviors of concussed adolescents with objective on-road in-vehicle monitoring and ecological momentary monitoring (EMA) of concussion symptoms.

Dr. McDonald is also collaborating with colleagues as an M-PI on an R01 to conduct a randomized controlled trial with parent-teen dyads to evaluate whether a comprehensive parent- and teen-directed intervention administered during the learner period of graduated driver licensing can reduce the proportion of adolescent drivers who are in an MVC during the first 12 months of licensure compared to a usual practice control condition. The 5-year R01 will seek to identify effective programs that can reduce teens’ risk for motor vehicle crashes (MVCs).

Opportunities to Learn and Collaborate at Penn Nursing

Penn Nursing displays the diversity of pathways that nurses can take in their career. Dr. McDonald is excited to be able to help shape the next generation of nurses, and to be in a research-intensive environment where her research is well supported. She also mentors undergraduate and graduate students on conducting research. Research training opportunities can be integrated within the PENN Injury Science Center and the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Selected Career Highlights

  • Vice Chair, Department of Family and Community Health
  • Department Research Award for Distinguished Contribution to Nursing and Healthcare Scholarship
  • Co-Director Training and Education Core, Executive Committee, PENN Injury Science Center (2019) 
  • Chair, Young Driver Subcommittee, Transportation Research Board (2019)
  • Inducted as a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing (2017)
  • “Emerging Scholar Award,” Villanova University Nursing Alumni Award (2016)
  • “Rising Star Research Award,” Eastern Nursing Research Society (2015) 
  • Ann Wolbert Burgess Endowed Student Award for Excellence and Leadership in Nursing, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (2010)

Accepting Mentees?

  • Yes

Accepting Fellows?

  • Yes

Featured Publications

  • *Corwin D.J., Mandel, F., McDonald C.C., Mohammed, F.N., Barnett, I., Arbogast, K.B., & Master, C.L. (2023). Maximizing accuracy of adolescent concussion diagnosis using individual elements of common standardized clinical assessment tools. Journal of Athletic Training, 58(11-12), 962-973.

  • *++Jain, D., Graci, V., Beam, M.E., Master, C.L., Prosser, L.A., McDonald, C.C., & Arbogast, K.B. Impaired neuromotor control during gait in concussed adolescents – a frequency analysis. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, Accepted.

  • Hafetz, J., McDonald, C.C., Long, D.L., Ford, C.A., Mdluli, T., Weiss, A., Felkins, J., Wilson, N & MacDonald, B. (2023). Promoting transportation safety in adolescence: The Drivingly randomized controlled trial. BMC Public Health 23(1), 2020.

  • *++Jain, D., Graci, V., Beam, M.E., Ayaz, H., Prosser, L.A., Master, C.L., McDonald, C.C., & Arbogast, K.B. (2023). Neurophysiological and gait deficits during a dual-task gait assessment in concussed adolescents. Clinical Biomechanics, 109, 106090.

  • *#Fish, A.M., #Vanni, J., Mohammed, F.N., Fedonni, D., Metzger, K.B., Shoop, J., Master, C.L., Arbogast, K.B., & McDonald, C.C. (2023). Comparison of anxiety and depression symptoms in concussed and nonconcussed adolescents. Sports Health,1(2), 185-191. (PMC9950990)

  • *Suffoletto, B., Pacella-LaBarbara, M.L., Huber, J., Delgado, M.K., & McDonald, C. (2022). Effectiveness of a text messaging intervention to promote seatbelt use among young adults: A randomized controlled trial. JAMA Network Open, 5(9), E2231616.

  • *Suffoletto, B., Pacella-LaBarbara, M.L., Huber, J., Delgado, M.K., & McDonald, C. (2022). Effectiveness of a text messaging intervention to reduce texting while driving among targeted young adults: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Adolescent Health, 71(4), 423-431.

  • ++Jain, D., Arbogast, K.B., Master, C.L., & McDonald, C.C. (2021). An integrative review of return to driving after concussion in adolescents. Journal of School Nursing, 37(1), 17-27. (PMC7796911)

  • *McDonald, C.C., Pfeiffer, M.R., Robinson, R., Arbogast, K.B., & Master, C.L. (2021). Telephone triage in pediatric head injury: Follow-up patterns and subsequent diagnosis of concussion. Clinical Nursing Research, 30(2), 104-109.

  • McDonald, C.C., Fargo, J.D., Swope, J., Metzger, K.B., & Sommers, M.S. (2021). Initial testing of a web-based intervention to reduce adolescent driver inattention: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Emergency Nursing, 47(1), 88-100.e3. DOI: (PMC 7785644).

View all publications

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