Nancy A. Hodgson, PhD, RN, FAAN

Claire M. Fagin Leadership Professor in Nursing

Chair, Department of Biobehavioral Health Sciences

Promoting dignity, minimizing symptoms, and honoring peoples preferences for care at the end of life — the goals of palliative care — are all challenging when caring for people with dementia. Nationally recognized nurse scientist Nancy A. Hodgson focuses on incorporating evidence-based findings into geriatric nursing practice to conquer these challenges and advance palliative dementia care.

Dr. Hodgson is the co-founder of the Palliative Care Program at the Madlyn and Leonard Abramson Center (formerly the Philadelphia Geriatric Center) — one of the first nursing-home based palliative care programs in the nation. Launched in 2002, the interdisciplinary program trained a core group of staff to help residents live as independently as possible with good quality of life, while treating their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.  

Since then, the Palliative Care Program has served thousands of people at the center and become a national model. With funding from the North Penn Community Health Foundation and the Farber Family Foundation, Dr. Hodgson and colleagues trained staff at other nursing homes in Pennsylvania. Dr. Hodgson has also provided technical assistance on implementing the model to colleagues nationwide. In 2004, the Palliative Care Program received an Honorable Mention in the Archstone Foundation and American Public Health Association Award for Excellence in Program Innovation.

Dignity becomes fragile as dementia progress. My work focuses on ways to provide palliative dementia care that honors and respects each person.


  • PhD, University of Pennsylvania, 1999
  • MSN, University of Pennsylvania, 1988
  • BSN, Widener University, 1984


As an expert in blended (or flipped) learning, Dr. Hodgson will help Penn Nursing develop courses blending online learning for theory and small group application in the classroom. Her teaching will focus on palliative care and geriatric nursing.  

Dr. Hodgson taught blended courses at the Johns Hopkins University, where she was an associate professor of nursing, associate director of implementation science and principal faculty at the Center for Innovative Care in Aging at Johns Hopkins, and core faculty at the Hopkins Center on Aging and Health. In 2016, Dr. Hodgson returned to Penn Nursing, where she earned her PhD and MSN degrees, to help nursing students become nurse scientists.

Opportunities to Learn and Collaborate at Penn Nursing

Moving evidence-based dementia care into practice and understanding the physiological mechanisms of effective behavioral interventions are the current focuses of Dr. Hodgson’s research. In one project, funded by the National Institute on Aging, she is preparing to scale up an evidence-based program called Project Cope in adult day care centers. Originally designed to minimize caregiver burden at home, Project Cope sent nurses and occupational therapists into the homes to help caregivers and engage people with dementia in meaningful activities tailored to their abilities.  

After a pilot study demonstrated that the right timing of activities improved sleep by one hour and statistically significantly reduced the number of night awakenings, Dr. Hodgson and colleagues are working on a larger randomized controlled trial funded by the National Institute of Nursing to determine the optimal timing of activities to induce a normal circadian process in people with dementia who live at home and have sleep disturbances. The researchers will use saliva to measure stress hormones and actigraphs to measure sleep in participants who will be randomized to intervention and control groups. Students participate in many aspects of Dr. Hodgson’s research, from helping to develop study measures to working with participants and doing data entry and analysis. 

Selected Career Highlights

  • Fellow, American Academy of Nursing  
  • Fellow, Gerontological Society of America  
  • Reviewer for research grants, Alzheimer’s International Research Grant Program, Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association and National Institutes of Health

Accepting Mentees?

  • Yes

Accepting Fellows?

  • Yes

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