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SXU Alumna Marlena Fisher Earns Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award


SXU alumna Marlena Fisher '16 has recently been awarded the Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award, which enables promising predoctoral students to obtain mentored research training while conducting dissertation research and enhances workforce diversity. Fisher's work focuses on advance care planning with family in the Black population who have end-stage renal disease.

With high rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, the Black population has an increased risk of developing kidney disease, with Black males being most at risk for kidney and cardiovascular disease. Those who do develop kidney disease progress more quickly to kidney failure and need a kidney transplant or regular dialysis to survive, making Fisher's work necessary and groundbreaking.

After graduating from SXU with an MSN in Clinical Leadership, Fisher was incredibly busy in her field, working as adjunct nursing faculty at Georgetown University and earning accolades like Magnet Nurse of the Year at Georgetown University Hospital. She was also selected in the inaugural cohort of the MedStar Leadership Development Program for nursing leadership. Currently, Fisher is a Ph.D. candidate at John Hopkins School of Nursing, conducting research under a National Institute of Health (NIH) funded grant.

While working toward her doctoral degree, Fisher continues practice as a bedside ICU nurse. Her studies include preparation of her dissertation, which requires membership in community and professional organizations, applying for scholarships and grants for research expenses and collecting, analyzing and disseminating data. She engages in scholarly writing, mentors graduate-level and new doctoral students, and assists professors in research activities.

Fisher's research award is supported by the National Institute of Nursing Research of the National Institute of Health under Award Number F31NR019211. Titled "Informal Advance Care Planning with Family in Blacks with End-Stage Renal Disease on Hemodialysis," Fisher’s research conducts a convergent mixed methods research design and applies quantitative and qualitative data to comprehensively understand the phenomena of informal advance care planning in the Black population.

"My research on the informal advance care-planning with family in the Black population with end-stage renal disease who require dialysis is foundational work that will help guide future interventions with the aim of increasing the rate and content of informal advance care planning with family," said Fisher.

Fisher finds that her time at SXU prepared her for her many scholarly accomplishments, particularly the program in Clinical Leadership, which exposed her to research in her Immersion Practicum coursework. "I noticed the power of research in affecting broader system change, which led me to pursue a Ph.D. in nursing so that I could conduct rigorous sound research to improve advance care planning with family practices," said Fisher.

"We are so proud of Marlena. As a student in SXU's MSN track in Clinical Leadership, Marlena demonstrated her passion for excellence in end-of-life and palliative care, and her achievements in this area continue to be outstanding. As an MSN student, she developed and carried out a research project on the relationship between health care professionals' advance directives and code status discussions in the intensive care unit," said School of Nursing and Health Sciences Interim Dean and professor Michele Poradzisz, Ph.D., RN, CNL, CNE. 

Fisher hopes to become an academic researcher that will teach and mentor the next generation of nurses. "I'd like to conduct community-engaged research that will improve advance care planning practices by creating interventions in collaboration with community members and partners. I hope to apply these research findings to advocate for policy change that will prioritize education and facilitation of advance care planning," Fisher said.  

"Marlena is committed to improving the quality of end-of-life care and demonstrates extraordinary promise for research productivity at a higher level," said Poradzisz.

 Fisher's favorite part of attending SXU was gaining exposure to engaged faculty who would become her mentors. When asked what advice she has for current SXU students, Fisher said, "Be curious. Being engaged can open doors for opportunities that may be of interest to you in the future."

Moving forward in her career, Fisher plans to obtain a post-doctoral position and an academic position, all while maintaining balance within her personal life, as she hopes to start a family. "I envision a future where everyone from all cultures, racial and ethnic backgrounds and ages have the resources and ability to engage in advance care planning in a way that is meaningful to them," said Fisher.