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Postdoctoral scholar receives dissertation award, fellowship

April 18, 2012

The Midwest Nursing Research Society honored Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing Postdoctoral Fellow Michelle M. Fennessy with a 2012 Acute Care Research Section Dissertation Award during the organization's annual conference on April 14.

Photo of postdoctoral scholar Michelle Fennessy, copyright UC Regents
Michelle M. Fennessy, a postdoctoral scholar at the School of Nursing

The award recognizes a researcher who completed an innovative and methodologically rigorous dissertation that makes significant contributions to the field of acute-care nursing, and has been shared through publication or presentation. Fennessy's doctoral adviser at the University of Illinois, Chicago College of Nursing nominated her for the award.

"I am honored to receive this award recognizing my dissertation research," Fennessy said. "I look forward to continuing to contribute new knowledge regarding care for individuals with cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the nation." 

Fennessy's dissertation, "Illness Representation, Fatigue, and Depressive Symptoms in Patients with Stable Coronary Disease," examined, among individuals with stable coronary artery disease, the relationship between illness representation--or how individuals perceive their illness--fatigue, and depressive symptoms and secondary prevention behaviors such as smoking cessation and participation in cardiac rehabilitation. Fennessy presented her dissertation research at the society's conference last week.

Her research revealed that illness representation influences behaviors related to participation in cardiac rehabilitation and the regular use of antiplatelet medications--which can inhibit further progression of coronary disease. The research demonstrated that fatigue and depressive symptoms, however, did not influence these health-promoting habits.

Coronary artery disease is a chronic illness that requires ongoing management, Fennessy said, and those living with the disease can improve their long-term health outcomes if they adopt certain health-promoting behaviors.

"This research refines our understanding of the impact of individuals' perceptions of their illness after they leave the hospital," Fennessy said. "Understanding what affects individuals' willingness and ability to take steps to prevent the progression of their heart disease is crucial information for health-care professionals."

As a postdoctoral fellow, Fennessy conducts research regarding cardiovascular disease under the mentorship of Associate Professor Holli A. DeVon. Fennessy's research focuses on health behaviors, health promotion and comparative effectiveness models to evaluate the care of individuals with chronic illness.

"This prestigious award is acknowledgment of Michelle's exceptional research into how people with heart disease characterize their illness," DeVon said. "I am privileged to work with such a talented new investigator and scholar, and I look forward to her future contributions in cardiovascular research, which will lead to better outcomes for the population living with heart disease."

The Midwest Nursing Research Society works to transform nursing practice by promoting and disseminating nursing research, and by encouraging and supporting the next generation of nurse scientists. The society has more than 1,300 members in a 13-state region of the Midwest.

Fennessy was also recently accepted into the Professors for the Future Fellowship Program at UC Davis. The fellowship, which includes a $3,000 stipend, is a year-long professional development and mentoring program meant to enhance the quality of the UC Davis graduate and postdoctoral experience. Fellows design and complete a project that benefits other graduate students or postdoctoral scholars on campus and participate in program-sponsored activities throughout the year.

For her project, Fennessy plans to design a seminar series on the use of social media applications by academics to communicate research findings to a wider lay audience.

Fennessy was one of 12 students and postdoctoral scholars selected for this year's program. She is also the first postdoctoral scholar from the School of Nursing to participate in the program. DeVon nominated her for the fellowship.

About the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis
For 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matters to California and to transform the world. The Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis was established in March 2009, UC Davis' first major initiative to address society's most pressing health-care problems in its second century of service. The school was launched through a $100 million commitment from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the nation's largest grant for nursing education. The vision of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing is to transform health care through nursing education and research. Through nursing leadership, the school will discover knowledge to advance health, improve quality of care and health outcomes, and inform health policy. The school's first programs, a doctoral and a master's degree program, opened in fall 2010. Additional students and programs will be phased in over the next decade. The Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing is part of the UC Davis Health System, an integrated, academic health system encompassing UC Davis School of Medicine, the 645-bed-acute-care hospital and clinical services of UC Davis Medical Center and the 800-member physician group known as the UC Davis Medical Group. For more information, visit nursing.ucdavis.edu.