Brenda Marshall, EdD, PMHNP-BC, ANEF
2018 Award for Excellence in Research

Brenda MarshallWhile caring for people with AIDS in the 1980s, Brenda Marshall witnessed patients being shunned by the public and how this impacted their treatment profoundly. “I realized that the stigma of AIDS was as deadly to the soul as the virus was to the body,” she says. While researching how to reduce this stigma, she began to examine how all types of biases influence quality of and access to treatment and the need to create awareness. “Our prejudices, if left unchecked, ruin our professionalism.” For her research to increase empathy and decrease stigma, Brenda Marshall is the recipient of the 2018 APNA Award for Excellence in Research.

At a Glance
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Passion:

Words of Wisdom to Future Nurses:
"Always use research and evidence in your practice and find time to take care of yourself!"

How She Makes Every Day Extraordinary:
“I appreciate the people around me, the air that I breathe, the health of my family and I also use the app '1 Second Every Day' to make sure I stop and smell the roses, at least for 1 or 2 seconds every day."

This introduction to research was just the beginning for Marshall. In 1993, when her daughter at age 2 ½ was diagnosed with epilepsy, Marshall delved further into studying the brain and behavior science, noticing how seizure disorders associated with epilepsy can also present with mental illness.  Her curiosity would continue to influence her selection of projects.

A fascination with interpersonal communication led her to study verbal and non-verbal communication during the establishment of the therapeutic alliance and the impact of psychotherapy and history reframing on a client’s recovery. Her interest in how our brains work steered her to examine the role of the therapeutic alliance in relation to functional MRIs and the importance of using evidence to support psychiatric nursing interventions.

It was an APNA connection that shaped her latest research project. After attending a session at an APNA New Jersey Chapter conference led by a professor of psychiatric nursing from Malta, Marshall stayed in touch with the speaker. She was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to teach about stigma reduction towards people with mental illness, substance use disorders, and those who are migrants with PTSD at the University of Malta, providing training on her “hearing voices” technique.

Adrial Lobelo, PhD(c), DNP, PMHNP-BC, RN, one of her nominators, describes the success of this method. “(She) developed, implemented and evaluated a six second low fidelity simulation, which was determined to be successful in increasing empathy, decreasing stigma, and fortifying the importance of therapeutic communication techniques...She has also, as a practitioner, used the 6-second simulation to help family members of patients with psychosis understand the struggle of the patient. This important strategy has been adopted by other nurse practitioners, educators and nurse executives to improve the provision of care to a person who has psychosis with auditory hallucinations through a deeper understanding of the patient’s experience.”

Marshall hopes to bring American nursing students to study in Malta and to start a student organization there. Nominator Christina Machuca explains, “she is working with colleagues to start a campaign of social justice leadership, Students Opposing Stigma (SOS), a funded campaign to teach college students how to replace fear of patients with mental illness and addiction with facts about recovery.”

Currently a full professor in the Department of Nursing and director for the Center for Research in the College of Science and Health at William Paterson University (WPUNJ) she appreciates the ability pursue her many passions. “What I love about my present position is the flexibility it provides me, to allow me to work on my writing, engage with students young and old, infecting them with my love of research… to model behaviors for new nurses in the psychiatric/mental health rotation and still have time to work as a nurse practitioner in my private practice in Oakland, New Jersey.”  

She truly models the behaviors she advocates for other nurses. Her advice for PMHNPs of the future—"Do what you love. I love the therapy aspect of PMHNP practice, and the group interactions in the hospital with my fellow PMHNs. We make a huge difference in our patients’ lives, and they give us so much as well, teaching us how to be better listeners, and more compassionate human beings.  Always use research and evidence in your practice, and find time to take care of yourself!”

Receiving the 2018 APNA Award for Excellence in Research has been humbling for Marshall but also affirming. “I am so curious about our brains, about our interpersonal communication styles and about how we can help make life more enjoyable for ourselves and our patients, that sometimes I almost forget that I am conducting research. This award tells me I’m on the right pathway.” We look forward to celebrating Marshall’s work at the APNA 32nd Annual Conference this fall in Columbus, Ohio.

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The American Psychiatric Nurses Association is accredited with distinction as a provider of nursing continuing professional development by the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on Accreditation.