Quality Improvement and Education

AAP/VON Scholar Awards


AAP/VON Scholar Awards are awarded to five fellows and early career neonatologists in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Neonatal Perinatal Medicine (SoNPM).

The award recognizes future leaders in newborn care who exemplify dedication to data-driven quality improvement in the care of infants and families.




  • Recognition as an AAP/VON Scholar for the recipient and their institution.
  • Opportunity to present on QI work during a VON Grand Rounds webinar.
  • Complimentary registration and travel stipend for the AAP National Conference and Exhibition (NCE) in October 2023 in Washington, DC.
  • Opportunity to share improvement poster at the AAP National Conference and Exhibition.

Eligibility Criteria

Applicants must be a member of the AAP SONPM Trainee and Early Career Neonatology (TECaN) group to qualify for this award.

Previous AAP/VON Scholars are not eligible to apply for the award.

Learn more about the 2022 AAP/VON Scholars' Improvement Work

AAP/VON scholars present their improvement work on VON Grand Rounds. View the recording in the VON Improvement Library.

2023 AAP/VON Scholars

Megan Aurora, MD

Megan Aurora is a neonatologist and Harvard Medical School (HMS) faculty at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). She holds administrative, leadership, and teaching roles at MassGeneral for Children (MGfC), MassGeneral Brigham (MGB), and Emerson Hospital that focus on quality & safety as well as process improvement. As associate medical director of the MGfC NICU and Nursery Director of Emerson Hospital she has championed multiple initiatives to enhance patient care and clinician workflow, including but not limited to antibiotic stewardship projects, neonatal thermoregulation efforts, care of VLBW infant bundles, neonatal resuscitation optimization, reduction of chronic lung disease and necrotizing enterocolitis. Many of these endeavors involved enacting significant practice changes as well as bringing in new technology and equipment. As MGH site lead for the NeoQIC perinatal respiratory care collaborative (RCC) she presented her work in the reduction of chronic lung disease at their regional RCC consortium. She chairs the MGfC Newborn Collaborative Practice committee, which systematically reviews and updates all newborn clinical practice guidelines to be as literature-informed and up-to-date as possible. In addition to chairing the committee, she has created and reviewed many of these clinical practice guidelines across three levels of MGfC nurseries (NICU, special care nursery, and newborn nursery). These included a Neonatal COVID Management guideline, “Small Baby” initiative, Newborn Resuscitation guideline, Laryngeal Mask Airway Surfactant Administration, and Noninvasive Ventilation guideline. She also serves in tandem with the pediatric Quality and Safety team on the preventing pediatric medication errors (PPME) committee to review all MGfC clinical practice guidelines involving medication recommendations. She co-chairs the compassionate caregiver rounds (CCR) steering committee in bringing compassionate, trauma-informed care practices to the unit in the form of facilitated discussions or presentations.

Her passion in neonatology centers around process improvement, specifically improving unit functionality, staff workflow, educational opportunities, patient care practices, and nationally benchmarked clinical outcomes. Her goal has been to learn how to best effect change in these domains and create the greatest impact.

Kwai Tei Chan Poon, MD

Dr. Kwai Tei Chan Poon is a third-year fellow in Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. She is originally from Venezuela where she obtained her medical degree from Universidad Centrooccidental Lisandro Alvarado. She completed her Pediatric residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Florida. Dr. Chan Poon very first experience developing a quality improvement project was in a low resource Hospital in Venezuela while working as a general physician. She developed programs for the first month newborn home visit, with special focus on teenage parents, low birth weight newborns and very low-income families. Her efforts led to such a significant improvement in their admission rates, that the program was expanded to other poor resources hospitals in the state. Her passion for QI continued to grow deeply during her fellowship, where she successfully led a QI project aimed to decrease packed red blood cell transfusion in premature infants. The significant reduction in red blood cell transfusions has led her to present her work at various local, state, and national conferences. In addition, Dr Chan Poon is collaborating on a project that is addressing social determinants of health to improve care delivery and outcomes following prenatal diagnosis of congenital heart disease. She hopes her contribution in this project will help future families feel more supported while they learn about their child’s diagnosis. Dr Chan Poon future career goals are to continue to lead and advance the field of quality improvement through initiatives that can improve the health and well-being of children and to continue to create awareness of inequities and challenges faced by underrepresented minorities.   

Alexandra Iacob, MD, MPH

Dr. Alexandra Iacob is a neonatologist and serves as the NICU QI and Research Director at Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach, California. She completed her bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering at Texas A&M University, medical school at the University of Texas Health Science Center – Houston, residency at Loma Linda University in California, and fellowship at University of California – Irvine. During training she developed an interest in quality improvement and health equity by participating in a state-wide substance use during pregnancy initiative with a focus on neonatal abstinence syndrome. She led this QI within the UCI NICU, helped local hospitals implement their own algorithms, and helped co-author best practice resources at the state-level. She then completed a Master in Public Health at John Hopkins University to grow her knowledge in health disparities and health systems. 

As an attending, she co-leads and advises on several QI initiatives within the NICU. Her main focus is standardizing the care for infants born at 32 to 34 weeks gestation: one QI project targets a unified approach to early onset sepsis management, while the second targets a standard nutrition and feeding algorithm based on birth weight and gestation. Other QI initiatives include a Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome Algorithm, and Standardizing Management of PDA in our VLBW population by standardizing timing of ECHO, definitions of hemodynamically significant PDA, and choice of pharmacological agent, with the overarching goal to reduce need for mechanical closure. These QI initiatives have been presented at several local, state, and national conferences. 

Through these QI initiatives, she strives to build multi-disciplinary teams to ensure success in implementation and outcomes, as well as mentor residents, fellows, and healthcare professionals to share the importance of QI work.

Sarah A. Swenson, MD, DPhil

Sarah A. Swenson, MD, DPhil, is a neonatal-perinatal medicine fellow at the University of Minnesota, where she has led quality improvement initiatives to implement standardized, routine perinatal mental health screening for parents of infants hospitalized in the neonatal intensive care unit. She received her medical degree from the University of Minnesota Medical School and completed her pediatrics residency at the University of Minnesota. Prior to medical school, she received her doctorate in the history of science and medicine from the University of Oxford, UK, which focused on the social and political factors that influenced biological theories of social behavior in the twentieth century. Her quality improvement interests include enhancing opportunities for wellbeing for infants and families impacted by neonatal intensive care, both during hospitalization and after discharge. She has additional interests in advocacy with the goal of advancing evidenced-based policies to optimize neurodevelopmental outcomes for premature and critically ill neonates.

Avery Zierk, MD

Avery is a current 2nd year neonatology fellow at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  He completed his bachelor degree in chemistry at College of Charleston and medical degree at the University of South Carolina.  He completed his pediatric residency training at Johns Hopkins Hospital and became interested in neonatal intensive care at this time.  It was during his 1st year of fellowship when he started to gain a deep interest in quality improvement and passion for developing and delivering improved care models for his patients in the NICU.  He is currently enrolled in the Certificate in Healthcare Quality and Patient Safety program, within the Center for Healthcare Improvement and Patient Safety (CHIPS) at the University of Pennsylvania, a two-year program that has helped provide a strong foundation in the principles of QI and systems thinking.  He is involved in numerous quality improvement projects in the NICU, with a specific interest in the chronic lung disease population.  He is currently leading a project aimed at reducing overuse of inhaled therapies in the NICU, as well as developing a standardized process for determining extubation readiness in the chronic lung disease population.  He is incredibly grateful for the mentorship and career development from the division of Neonatology at CHOP and the CHIPS program faculty, and looks forward to continuing work in QI and in the chronic lung disease population after fellowship.

2022 AAP/VON Scholars

Anjali Anders, MD

Dr. Anjali Anders is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Child Health at the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO. She completed her medical school and residency at University of Missouri-Columbia. Following this she completed Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine fellowship at Vanderbilt University Medical Center where she developed an interest in quality improvement, which continues in her work as a clinical neonatologist. She currently co-leads several QI initiatives within and outside of the NICU. One initiative is to decrease the incidence of chronic lung disease (CLD) among preterm infants. The initiative incorporates care of preterm infants less than 32 weeks gestational age from birth to 36 weeks corrected gestational age. Her QI team utilized high-fidelity simulation to demonstrate and record the implementation of bubble CPAP in the delivery room to educate physicians, nurses, and respiratory therapists on how to efficiently perform this skill. The recorded simulation was published to allow further improvement of patient care beyond their individual institution. Dr. Anders has completed the Intermediate Improvement Science Series (I2S2) through Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. She applies knowledge from this course to other quality improvement initiatives. These include a Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome QI initiative as part of the Missouri Hospital Association Perinatal QI Collaborative and implementation of the use of the Kaiser Permanente neonatal sepsis calculator with the goal of limiting inappropriate antibiotic use and the number of painful, costly, and unnecessary procedures (e.g. lab draws and central line placement). Dr. Anders serves as the NICU QI director at Women’s and Children’s Hospital and was recently elected co-chair of the Missouri Hospital Association Maternal-Child Learning Action Network (perinatal QI collaborative). Through her projects and leadership roles, she strives to increase interest in quality improvement among other healthcare professionals and aspires to build a culture focused on providing the safest and most effective care for patients.

Maria Franco-Fuenmayor, MD

Dr. Franco Fuenmayor is a neonatologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. She is a proud alumna of this institution where she completed her medical school in 2016, pediatrics residency in 2019 and neonatal perinatal medicine fellowship in 2022. During her postgraduate training, Dr. Franco Fuenmayor realized her passion for quality improvement in neonatal care and sought to improve her skills through participation in the TECAN QI Summer School and the IHI Open School Basic Certificate in Quality and Safety. Throughout her training, she was actively involved in the creation and implementation of multiple QI projects in the NICU including improved surfactant administration and diagnosis with lung ultrasound, neonatal iron supplementation dosing and antibiotic stewardship. She has presented her work at various local, state, and national conferences.

Dr. Franco Fuenmayor is a firm believer in the importance and impact of innovation through multidisciplinary teamwork grounded in QI methodology. She serves as team leader for HOME SAFE, a multifaceted project that optimizes interventions from admission to safely discharge high risk infants. She is a strong advocate of family centered care and has helped weave its layers into HOME SAFE with the development of a specific portion entitled Family CARE that focuses on improving engagement and longitudinal teaching and for which she successfully secured grant funding. She is an active participant in the AAP TECAN Family Centered Care Taskforce. She enjoys collaborating with her colleagues to create a widespread culture of teamwork and family integration that improves overall neonatal care.

Chandy Ravikumar, DO

Dr. Chandy Ravikumar is a third-year fellow in Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, Texas. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Ravikumar had a brief career in health information technology and worked as an electronic medical record software specialist before medical school. She obtained her medical degree from the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, where she fell in love with the NICU during her pediatrics clerkship. She completed her Pediatric residency at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, Texas. During training, she participated in resident quality improvement curriculum and workshops to learn QI methodology. As a senior pediatric resident, she championed an interdepartmental QI project to improve the timing of antibiotic administration in febrile neutropenic patients in the emergency room. During her neonatal-perinatal medicine fellowship, she spearheads an initiative to improve the proportion and documentation of eligible infants who receive delayed cord clamping. She is driven by how quality initiatives can eliminate variations in care and establish equity in patient populations. She is particularly interested in using her background in healthcare information technology to optimize EMR utilization in patient care, safety, and research. After completing her fellowship, she hopes to become a leader in her community on quality and patient safety in neonatal care. She is grateful to her mentors, who have taught her so much along the way. She lives in Houston with her husband and is an avid reader and watercolorist.

Richelle M. Reinhart, MD

Richelle is a 3rd year neonatology fellow at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC. She completed her undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech, medical school at the University of South Florida, and pediatrics residency at Rainbow Babies’ and Children’s Hospital. Richelle has been involved in quality improvement & patient safety research since medical school, ranging from work in improving multidisciplinary care in neonatal abstinence syndrome to studying the effects of virtual rounding in the COVID-19 pandemic to monitor bundle compliance and engagement. She has completed her white and yellow belts in Lean Certification and is currently enrolled in a Master’s in Healthcare Quality at the George Washington University with the hopes of pursuing a leadership position in QI after the completion of fellowship.

Priyanka Tiwari, MD

Dr. Priyanka Tiwari is an attending neonatologist at the NewYork-Presbyterian Alexandra Cohen Hospital for Women and Newborns. She obtained her BA in Psychology from Johns Hopkins University and her Medical Degree from New York Medical College. She completed her Pediatric Residency at NYU Langone Health and her Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine Fellowship at Weill Cornell Medicine.

During Dr. Tiwari’s post-graduate training, she began to realize her passion for quality improvement.  She is a 2020 graduate of the Weill-Cornell Quality Improvement Academy, working on a project focusing on identification and management of asymptomatic hypoglycemia in high risk neonates.

As the Director of Quality Improvement in the NICU, Dr. Tiwari serves as QI advisor and leader for multiple initiatives and has created multidisciplinary collaborations within the division and across departments. Her current QI initiatives focus on: unplanned extubations, postpartum depression screening in conjunction with Psychiatry, antimicrobial stewardship in conjunction with Pediatric Infectious Disease, feeding protocol to reduce length of stay, standardization of an infant-driven feeding model and central line associated bloodstream infections. Her future career goals are to use her unit’s data in comparison to benchmarking data provided by VON for other centers similar to our unit to help identify continued local opportunities for improvement of care in her unit, to extend her QI efforts and impact through multi-center collaboratives on a regional and national level and to educate and mentor future generations of quality improvement physician-scientists.