Meaghann Weaver, MD, assistant professor of Pediatrics and chief of the Division of Pediatric Palliative Care, was honored recently with UNMC’s New Investigator Award. This award recognizes UNMC faculty who have obtained their first federal research funding in the past two years, while demonstrating excellence in scholarly activity, such as publication. Dr. Weaver and nine other New Investigator awardees were recognized at a March 3 campus ceremony that also honored UNMC’s 2019 Scientist Laureate, Research Leadership awardee, and ten Distinguished Scientists. Many in the CHRI community are well aware of Dr. Weaver’s productivity as a researcher who takes diverse approaches to improve quality of life for children with chronic, complex or critical illness.
Dr. Weaver kindly engaged in the following Q&A with the CHRI Research Bulletin to shed light on her research career.
Q: What drew you to a career in medicine and research?
A: Witnessing my parent’s work doing post-civil war community development in Liberia, Ghana and Kenya translated into my entering medicine. Research is a way to collectively leverage for improved care outcomes and so I experience research as a deeply motivating aspect of medicine.
Q: What kinds of problems are you trying to understand and address in your research program?
A: Palliative care research tries to understand and improve quality of life, symptom burden, communication and decisional experiences, family relationships, care delivery and health equity.
Q: Who are some of the cross-disciplinary collaborators you work with?
A: The most essential collaborators are the patients and family caregivers since the work is ultimately intended for their benefit. So, I do proactively invite panels of community stakeholders into even the early steps of study design. My favorite research projects are those that bring physicians, nurses, chaplains, social workers, community stakeholders, methodologists or theorists, and biostatisticians together early in concept design, then throughout implementation and evaluation. We invite a new learner (ideally someone who has raw, but under-recognized ability) in on each new project to develop future researchers. Study participants deserve collaborations and research team members deserve learning from each other’s perspectives. Team science is essential.
Q: What new research goal(s) do you plan to pursue in the future?
A: Sometimes we have these glaring research questions or clinical curiosities, but we can be limited by a lack of knowledge of accessible study design options. So, I’m challenging myself to make 2020 the year of “sunshine and strengthened methodologies”. The next month brings the goal of finishing the analysis longitudinal, multi-institute patient-reported outcomes study using symptom cluster design and latent transition analysis. Another methodology goal is to create a social network analysis to map out telehealth hospice relationships in rural America. My most hopeful research goal is to continue working with my mentor team to transition the Good Parent Beliefs Concept into a validated theory within the next few years. I find it freeing to avoid making certain grant amounts or impact factors as the actual end goal, because that stifles joy and blocks creativity. Instead, I try to strive for learning goals and team goals and after a long winter - sunshine goals.
Q: What does it mean to you to be part of CHRI? What special challenges or opportunities do you see for pediatric research here in Omaha?
A: There is really exciting science happening in Omaha and wonderful humans doing the science. Certain Midwestern values are refreshing in local research: collaboration, integrity, curiosity and high work ethic. We’ve created symbiotic adult-pediatric palliative research relationships locally. I have enjoyed getting to partner in adult palliative research in Omaha such as we’re working on a randomized trial of psilocybin (psychedelic) intervention for intractable end of life suffering for adults with pancreatic cancer and also developing a decision-guide for geriatric patients considering bone marrow transplant. Research is very much about the meaningful and motivating relationships as we strive together to move the science of our fields forward to better improve patient care.