Marilyn (Lynn) Sawyer Sommers, PhD, RN, FAAN

Professor Emerita of Nursing

Dr. Sommers is the Lillian S. Brunner Professor of Medical-Surgical Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania. She received her bachelors degree in nursing at the University of Pennsylvania, her masters degree in nursing education from New York University, and her PhD in nursing science with a minor in human physiology at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. She received postdoctoral training as a Faculty Fellow through the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism from 1990-1994 at the University of Cincinnati. Prior to her academic career, Dr. Sommers had 15 years of experience as a staff nurse, clinical nurse specialist, and nurse administrator in the areas of critical care and trauma.


Dr. Sommers is known for her expertise in the physiologic basis of critical illness and injury. She has taught graduate courses in advanced physiology and pathophysiology, and in particular, the cellular changes that occur with injury and shock. In addition, she teaches courses at the undergraduate and doctoral levels that guide students to initiate nursing inquiry and explore research methods. Her courses have a strong focus on the accuracy and precision of biological measures and their usefulness as outcome measures.


Dr. Sommers studies injury related to sexual assault and risk-taking behaviors in vulnerable populations at risk for health outcomes disparities. Her populations of interest (women, older adolescents, young adults) who live in poverty have poorer health than those who do not, and bear a larger burden of injury. Because they may have no other access to the health care system, people living at or below the poverty level often use the emergency department (ED) as a safety net. Dr. Sommers has developed and tested developmentally-appropriate, theoretically-driven, and culturally sensitive ED interventions to reduce the risk for injury. She and her multidisciplinary team test the effectiveness of brief interventions to reduce problem drinking and prevent traffic injury. Three randomized controlled trials were funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (R01AA10355) and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC; R49CCR510153; R49CE523225). Dr. Sommers has also been developing innovative strategies to understand patterns of physical injury resulting from sexual assault. In the groundbreaking first phase of her team’s research funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR; R01NR05352; F31NR009727), they found that females with dark skin had a lower genital injury frequency and prevalence following consensual and non-consensual sexual intercourse than females with light skin. This novel finding points up a significant health disparity: females with dark skin may be at a disadvantage at multiple points in both the health care and the criminal justice systems. Her recently-funded competing continuation application, with funding from NINR and National Institute of Mental Health (2R01NR05352), tests novel ways to identify injury through digital image analysis, and determines innovative strategies to measure injury across the continuum of skin color and range of skin mechanics.

Clinical Practice

Dr. Sommers has been a leader in critical care and trauma nursing practice for many years. She is the author of the first Multisystem Chapter of AACN’s Core Curriculum, the foundation for the certification exam for the American Association of Critical Care Nurses. She recently collaborated with a clinical colleague on the chapter revision. She is also the primary author of Diseases and Disorders: A Nursing Therapeutics Manual, which is in its third edition and a standard supplemental text book for many acute care undergraduate clinical courses in the U.S. Her particular strength as a clinical teacher is the ability to make complex cellular phenomena topics easily understood by students and bedside critical care nurses.

Selected Career Highlights

Dr. Sommers has been involved at all levels of the discipline. She was inducted into the American Academy of Nursing as a Fellow in 1999. She served on the Board of Directors of the Midwest Nursing Research Society as Secretary, was President of the same organization from 2003 to 2005, and received the Presidential Award from MNRS in 2007. She currently serves as the Chair of the Steering Committee for the Council for the Advancement of Nursing Science (2004-2008) and recently completed her term as the Chair of the Research Committee for the Society of Critical Care Medicine, the first nurse scientist to do so. She has been a frequent participant on federal panels related to research on injury and violence, activities that are summarized in the following list:
∙Nursing Science: Adults and Older Adults; Children and Families study sections, Center for Scientific Review, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services;
∙ Injury Control Research Centers Grant Review Panel, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services;
∙ Special Emphasis Panel, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism;
∙ Research Grant Review Panel, Research Funding and Policy Division, Health Research Board, Ireland and the former states of the Soviet Union;
∙ Consensus Panel on Brief Intervention in the Acute Care Trauma Settings, Centers for Substance Abuse Prevention, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.