Alumni and faculty research improves infant health care

At 9 p.m. on a Friday, many young professionals are unwinding, preparing to enjoy the beginning of a weekend away from the office. Not Kelly McGlothen. This is when the 26-year-old nurse comes to life as she heads expeditiously toward the Biobehavioral Research Laboratory in the School of Nursing at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. In her arms she cradles four small test tubes. To most, the contents might seem unpleasant, but to McGlothen, the saliva inside is as good as gold.  In the lab, she loads the specimens into a centrifuge where they spin for 15 minutes. Then she gently tucks them into the freezer at minus 82 degrees Celsius where they’ll remain until she collects more to analyze.

Assistant Professor Lisa Cleveland, Ph.D., RN (left), and Ph.D. student Kelly McGlothen, RN, BSN, ’12, load specimens in the centrifuge in the Biobehavioral Research Laboratory in the School of Nursing.

A registered nurse, McGlothen earned her B.S.N. from the School of Nursing at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio in 2012 and returned in the fall of 2013 to pursue her Ph.D. As part of her coursework, McGlothen serves as a graduate research assistant. Under the tutelage of her mentor Lisa Cleveland, Ph.D., RN, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing’s Department of Family and Community Health Systems, McGlothen launched a pilot study with the goal of helping some of San Antonio’s most vulnerable patients—infants born to mothers addicted to and recovering from opioids, including drugs such as heroin, methadone, Vicodin and others both legal and illegal.

McGlothen, who grew up in Texas, where teen pregnancy rates are among some of the highest in the nation, said that as a teen she was well aware of the problems that young mothers can encounter when life stresses become overwhelming.

“When I lived in Corpus Christi, I had some friends who became pregnant very early on and weren’t ready for the responsibilities of motherhood,” McGlothen said. “One was 15 and the other was only 12 years old. I could see how a troubled young woman not equipped to handle the pressures of being a new mom could turn to substance abuse or other unhealthy habits as an escape.”  McGlothen recalls serving as a support system for her expectant friends by going along with them to their clinic visits. She’d wait patiently, offer encouragement, and lend a sympathetic ear and shoulder. It was then that she decided she wanted to be a nurse.

“I wanted a career that would allow me to help others, especially those who don’t have the resources or support to help themselves,” she said. “Nursing offers all of this plus the opportunity to delve into research, which is something I was very interested in doing.”  McGlothen said she is pursuing her dream, thanks to the dedicated faculty of the School of Nursing. Her faculty mentor, Dr. Cleveland, who has more than 20 years of experience as a neonatal nurse, established in 2013 a partnership among the School of Nursing, University Hospital, the Center for Health Care Services and the Department of State Health Services. The purpose is to disseminate a San Antonio treatment and counseling effort called “The Mommies Program” for substance-abuse recovering mothers and their newborns. Since then, more than 1,000 women have benefited from the program. McGlothen considers herself among the beneficiaries as she was able to engage in the program as Dr. Cleveland’s research assistant.  “I’m doing what I love: helping young women, their babies and contributing to important research,” McGlothen said.

Kelly McGlothen, RN, who earned her B.S.N. from the School of Nursing in 2012, is now enrolled in the Ph.D. program. While teaching students on campus, McGlothen takes time to encourage undergraduates to enroll in the B.S.N. to Ph.D. in Nursing Program. “We need more qualified nurse researchers who will be the next great scientists and teachers,” McGlothen said.

She doesn’t mind being on call in the evenings or on weekends. When she gets a call, she hurries to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at University Hospital where the program’s participants are practicing Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), a method of skin-to-skin mother-infant cradling. She gingerly collects samples of saliva from both mom and baby and transports the specimens to the lab in the School of Nursing. There, she and her research team measure cortisol (a biomarker of stress) levels in recovering mothers and their babies before and during KMC to discover if this technique reduces stress and improves attachment.
McGlothen is adding to Dr. Cleveland’s research and hopes to help her learn more about whether KMC decreases the infants’ need for medication and reduces their hospital stays and cost.

Dr. Cleveland was awarded a two-year, $264,000 grant from the Department of State Health Services to expand her study to other hospitals throughout the state. McGlothen in the meantime has added another feather to her cap—teacher. She recently began lecturing students in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program to encourage undergraduates to enroll in the B.S.N. to Ph.D. in Nursing program, a pipeline program to recruit more nurses into research. McGlothen, who is herself a product of the B.S.N. to Ph.D. program, said she considers encouraging nurses to pursue research to be a privilege.

“The greatest gift students can have is faculty like Dr. Cleveland who take them under their wing and help them develop their passion and grow into their own,” McGlothen said. “It happened for me. I hope I can do the same for others.”

For more information about research efforts in the School of Nursing or the B.S.N. to Ph.D. in Nursing program, contact Melissa Mireles at 210-567-5534 or email

Article by Natalie A. Gutierrez

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In the 2016 issue of Tribute

Tribute is the official magazine for the alumni and friends of the School of Nursing at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Read and share inspiring stories highlighting our alumni, faculty and students who are revolutionizing education, research, patient care and critical services in the communities they serve.

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