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SDSU’s Isaacson honored by hospice nurses

Mary Isaacson

Mary Isaacson, a member of the College of Nursing faculty at South Dakota State University since 2013, has been selected as a Fellow in Palliative Care Nursing.

She was one of 14 selected nationwide by the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association and is the only SDSU faculty member to receive this designation. She is one of 16 South Dakota nurses that is certified in hospice and palliative nursing.

The award will be presented in March 2023 at the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine/Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association’s Annual Assembly in Montreal, Canada.

One of the association’s highest honors, fellows are recognized for their extraordinary accomplishments in palliative nursing care as well as their contributions to association. As a member of the 2023 cohort of fellows, Isaacson joins the ranks of the most accomplished members of the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association.

Isaacson began working in rural hospice nursing in 1992 and returned to the field  as her primary research focus  in 2013. She has been a practicing nurse since 1982, when she earned a diploma in nursing from St. Luke’s College in Sioux City, Iowa. She earned her bachelor’s degree from SDSU in 1998, a master’s in nursing with a community health emphasis at Augustana University in 2002, and became certified in palliative care in 2015.

Since 2013, Isaacson has received eight grants totaling more than $2.4 million to conduct research specific to hospice and palliative care.

Her primary interest has been eliminating the health disparities that severely impact the Native American population in South Dakota. Since 2008, she has worked in partnership with the Indigenous population on the Pine Ridge Reservation to address these disparities and her current research expands that to Rosebud and Cheyenne River.


Launched two grant studies this fall

In her most recent grant award, Isaacson, an associate professor at the Rapid City campus, is teaming with Jenn Anderson, an associate professor in the School of Communication and Journalism, as co-principal investigators for a $369,000 effort to create culturally relevant messages on palliative care with the Native American community.

That September award from the National Institute for Nursing Research comes on the heels of a $50,000 award from the Rex and Rita Hillman Foundation to identify the health care priorities and needs of the Lakota community in Rapid City.

“Our primary goal will be to conduct a community needs assessment, which will identify American Indian’s priorities, needs and challenges when seeking health care services,” Isaacson said. The 18-month effort is being done in collaboration with Woyatan Lutheran Church and the Wambli Ska Teen Center and will begin in January 2023.

In addition to her research, Isaacson serves on the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Task Force, chaired its research advisory committee in 2021-22 and was co-chair in 2020-21. She also is a board member for the Rural Nursing Organization and the Council of Public Health Nursing Organizations.

Isaacson said the honor from the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association “is incredibly humbling. The field of hospice and palliative nursing is relatively small. We either know each other personally or by name, so when I consider those fellows recognized before me and those with me, I feel truly blessed.”


Also college’s researcher of year

In addition to that award, Isaacson will be honored in February at the university’s Faculty Excellence banquet as the college’s researcher of the year.

The honoree is nominated by a peer, recommended by the college’s research committee and confirmed by the dean. Isaacson also won the award in 2015.

In his nomination, associate professor Brandon Varilek cited recent grant awards from the National Institutes of Nursing Research and the Rex and Rita Hillman Foundation. He added that in the last seven years, Isaacson has published 22 peer-reviewed articles, co-authored a chapter in a rural nursing textbook and delivered 11 presentations.

Varilek also heralded Isaacson’s ability to cultivate partnerships with the Native American population.

“It takes years of effort and experience to gain the trust of the Native American population, especially when bringing ideas that impact their health, and Dr. Isaacson has gained the population’s trust. Additionally, her current successful collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital (on a Native American hospice project) makes her a likely collaborator for a follow up study with the same research team,” he wrote.