Matthew D. McHugh, PhD, JD, MPH, RN, CRNP, FAAN

The Independence Chair for Nursing Education

Professor of Nursing

Director, Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research

Faculty Director, Nursing and Health Care Management Coordinated Dual Degree Program

The fundamental question underlying Dr. McHugh’s program of research is “How does nursing influence the achievement of our most important national and international health policy goals?” As Associate Director of Penn Nursing’s Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research, he directs highly visible studies that draw on his expertise in nursing, law, public health, and health services research to evaluate how nursing can be a force for quality, equity, and innovation in health services. 

Nursing is central to good patient outcomes and achieving our most important health policy goals.


  • JD, Northeastern University School of Law, 2006
  • PhD, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, 2004
  • MPH, Harvard School of Public Health, 2003
  • MSN, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, 1998
  • BSN, Gwynedd-Mercy University, 1996
  • ASN, Gwynedd-Mercy University, 1995


As principal investigator on multiple large-scale studies funded by NIH, AHRQ, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Dr. McHugh’s work has advanced the field of nursing outcomes and policy research by showing the value of investing in nursing as a vehicle to achieve a higher functioning health care system. For example, Dr. McHugh has conducted studies directly evaluating implemented policy; papers from his AHRQ-funded study evaluating the impact of a California law mandating minimum nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals have been published in leading policy journals including Health Affairs and The Milbank Quarterly. He is now evaluating a new nurse-to-patient ratio mandate in Queensland, Australia. Dr. McHugh has also carried out a number of studies evaluating the impact of nurse practitioner scope-of-practice restrictions and Medicaid reimbursement rates on access to care.

Impacting Local, National, and International Policy 

In addition to findings from direct evaluations of nurse staffing ratio laws, research from Dr. McHugh and colleagues at the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research has informed legislation proposed in many states on safe nurse staffing levels. Dr. McHugh has been instrumental in Penn’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Graduate Nurse Education (GNE) Demonstration Project— a $40 million Demonstration project under the Affordable Care Act, which provides reimbursement through the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (one of only five hospitals nationally) for the reasonable cost of clinical training for advanced practice registered nursing students. Dr. McHugh also has a record of continuous service on advisory panels and councils that inform quality measurement and evaluation for policy purposes. For example, the Governor of Pennsylvania appointed him to the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4) and he is Vice Chair of the PHC4 Data Systems Committee. He also serves on advisory panels and expert workgroups of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the National Academy of Medicine, the Leapfrog Group, and the National Quality Forum that are focused on cost and quality.

Dr. McHugh has also conducted a series of studies evaluating how nursing affects policy initiatives and outcomes central to health reform. For example, Dr. McHugh and colleagues have focused on an area that had been largely ignored in efforts to lower readmissions: the variation in nursing resources and work environments across hospitals. In a study of Medicare patients undergoing general, orthopedic, and vascular surgery, the Penn researchers found that hospitals with better nurse staffing and a better work environment had significantly fewer 30-day readmissions. His work has shown that hospitals with better levels of nurse staffing are much less likely to be penalized under the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program.  His research has influenced policy and practice nationally, particularly around nurse staffing legislation, Magnet hospital credentialing, and hospital performance monitoring.

Another line of inquiry focuses on answering the question “Does the organization and delivery of nursing services matter for vulnerable populations and health disparities?” Dr. McHugh currently has two R01 grants evaluating the influence of nursing on racial and ethnic disparities in health outcomes.  He also focuses on the importance of nursing to ensuring good outcomes for our most complex and severely ill patients.  For example, Dr. McHugh has shown that surgical patients with Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias are particularly at risk for poor outcomes including mortality when cared for in hospitals with a relatively low proportion of nurses with a BSN degree.  Similarly, he has shown the importance of adequate nursing resources and a good nurse work environment for survival and good neurological function for patients who experience cardiac arrest while in the hospital. 

Opportunities to Learn and Collaborate at Penn Nursing

Dr. McHugh is Associate Director of the NINR-funded T32 training program “Advances in Nursing Outcomes Research” at the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research, where he mentors pre- and post-doctoral fellows. The Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research brings together faculty, students, and pre- and post-doctoral fellows from nursing, sociology, demography, medicine, management, economics, law, and other disciplines. Center researchers also collaborate with researchers from around the world.  As faculty director of Penn’s Coordinated Dual-Degree Program in Nursing and Health Care Administration Management, Dr. McHugh is helping to develop the nurse leaders of the future. This joint program of the Wharton School and Penn Nursing prepares students to lead in diverse healthcare settings. Dr. McHugh teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in health policy and he mentors undergraduate and graduate students extensively.

Selected Career Highlights

  • Fellow, American Academy of Nursing 
  • Co-director, Advanced Training in Nursing Outcomes Research, National Institute of Nursing Research 
  • President’s Distinguished Alumni Award, Gwynedd-Mercy University  
  • Top 10 Most Read Papers in 2013, Health Affairs  
  • Top 5 Most Influential Research Articles for 2011, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Accepting Mentees?

  • Yes

Accepting Fellows?

  • Yes

Featured Publications

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