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Kathleen Mooney

Kathi Mooney

Kathi Mooney PhD, RN, FAAN

Cancer Center Bio

Selected Achievements

Distinguished Researcher Award, Oncology Nursing Society (2012)

University of Utah Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Scholar Distinguished Mentor Award (2011)

Utah System of Higher Education Award of Excellence in Increasing Access to Higher Education. Utah System of Higher Education (2007)

Pioneer Award. Utah Hospice Organization (1999)

I was a reluctant academic and cancer behavioral scientist. My career goal was to use my nursing skills to restore health and improve quality of life working in clinical settings. I remember scoffing at a classmate who, upon graduation, immediately returned to graduate school. I began my clinical cancer career in pediatric oncology, another unlikely occurrence. I was most interested in a career in pediatrics but could find no clinical positions in the specialty upon graduation. Eventually there was an opening in pediatric oncology at Stanford University’s Children Hospital in Palo Alto California. I admit that when I went to the interview I was unclear the meaning of the word oncology but decided to give it a go. As it turned out, that was a defining moment. I found my career path and a deep commitment to advancing cancer care and science.

Wanting to understand cancer more deeply, I eventually found myself eagerly heading off to graduate school at the University of Washington. My master thesis was a descriptive study of oral mucositis in bone marrow transplant patients and I had the opportunity to work at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The experience cultivated my curiosity and piqued my interest in research as a way to answer questions. Graduating with my master’s degree, my intent was still to return to Stanford as a cancer advanced practice nurse but when a position wasn’t immediately available, I took a ‘temporary’ position at the University of Utah to help finish a NCI contract that the College of Nursing had to provide cancer continuing education to nurses throughout Utah. I fully intended to return to California and cancer clinical care but, the opportunities I found at the University of Utah have kept me here ever since. Early on, with a colleague I cofounded Hospice of Salt Lake, the first home hospice program in the state of Utah. A wonderful group of cancer clinicians donated their time to provide outreach and care for people wishing to stay at home at the end of life. Eventually, with the program firmly established, we transitioned it to the oldest home care agency in Utah, Community Nursing Service who to this day continues to provide Hospice services.

Research as a pathway to improvements in cancer care led me to enroll in the PhD program in Health Education while maintaining my faculty position in the College of Nursing. My dissertation was a descriptive comparison of people who had progression of their cancer after initial treatment and their subsequent decision to stay exclusively with traditional treatment options or to also add what was then called ‘unproven methods’ (and now would be called complimentary or integrative approaches). I had been bothered by articles I read that seemed to ridicule people for considering methods other than those considered conventional, calling them ‘straw graspers’ and I figured there was a deeper story to tell about people’s decisions when faced with cancer and conventional treatment had not been successful.  Thus I set out to find the real answer and that is what hooked me on a research career in cancer behavioral science. I truly believe it is the best career in the world- people actually pay you to read, to think, to wonder, to pose questions and to design ways to answer those questions. Amazing!

Along the way I have been privileged to work with a terrific group of dedicated research staff and colleague co-investigators.  Together we have developed a systematic series of studies where we now see tangible and important contributions to improving symptom care and family caregiver support for cancer patients and their families. It has also been rewarding to return to my earlier clinical interest in end-of-life and hospice care by applying my research skills to further improve care for patients with life limiting cancer and the well-being of their families.

As I have progressed in my career I have enjoyed working with students at all levels and early-stage faculty as they develop their research skills. I have had the opportunity to mentor many terrific individuals who have developed stellar cancer research careers. There is nothing more satisfying. I have also had the freedom to develop interesting courses and curricula, most recently a course focused on creativity and innovation is science. I think traditional PhD curriculums overemphasize the mechanics, rules of research and current paradigms to the exclusion of also helping students develop skills that lead to innovation and challenging the assumptions of their field. It has been great fun to create a course to provide students an opportunity to focus on science innovation and to develop more depth in problem formulation.

Every day I am excited to come to campus and move forward on the next steps of a research project. I enjoy having multiple projects progressing in various phases. Each study generates many more questions than it actually answers which fuels my curiosity further. It never gets boring, there is too much still to explore.