Student Spotlight

DNP alumna honored for creating a holistic treatment to mental illness

May 08, 2019 by Victoria Lim
Salema Coaxum earned her DNP from Brandman University while serving in the U.S. Army and working as a travel nurse.

Salema Coaxum’s interest in nursing began with the example her grandmother set.

“I’m a very service oriented individual. I like caring for others. My grandmother was a nurse and I always had a respect and value for nursing as a career,” Coaxum said. “It seemed to be a pretty loyal and trustworthy, caring career path.”

Coaxum’s first career was also service-oriented. She enlisted in the Army in 1990 and served in National Guard while pursuing higher education. She earned her bachelor’s of science in nursing and achieved her registered nursing certification in 2008.

From there, Coaxum wove together her active duty, studies and new career as a travel nurse. It was when she was finally following in her grandmother’s footsteps that she realized she wanted more from the profession.

“When I did get into nursing, I found out it wasn’t the flowers and cotton candy I thought it was going to be. I found it difficult to be a floor nurse. The issue was with the leadership of the facilities,” she said. “It was a lot of burnout…I didn’t see a lot of teamwork.”

With a goal to improve nurses’ experience in the profession by being in a position of leadership, she decided to pursue a doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) degree. She enrolled at Brandman University's Marybelle and S. Paul Musco School of Nursing and Health Professions in 2016.

“I needed an online program for the flexibility. I heard about Brandman through searching the internet and online DNP programs. They are military friendly, and I’m an army nurse,” Coaxum said.


SCoaxumDNP alum STTI
For her doctoral project, Coaxum used her passion and her past: as a former athlete, proud military service member, and personal trainer, she knows the benefits of physical activity. She researched how exercise can treat depressive symptoms in middle-aged women. She worked with a group of women who tested positively for depression using a clinical tool as well as self-assessment. Coaxum met with each woman twice a week over 90 days for 45-minute exercise sessions that included aerobic activity.


After 90 days, all of the women said they no longer suffered from depression. Many continued their exercise regimen even after the test period was over.

“It proved my findings. Exercise is a critical component to treat mental illness. I believe that and stand by it,” Coaxum said.

She was selected to present her project to the sold-out Sigma Theta Tau (an international nursing honor society) conference in New Orleans and was named a Rising Star.

Her priority now is to work in a facility where she can put into practice the solutions she explored to the original reasons that led her to Brandman and her DNP. She fears too many nurses are leaving the profession because of what she experienced: inadequate staffing, a lack of fairness when it comes to nursing assignments and accountability, and a lack of leadership that has the well-being of nurses in mind.

“There are a lot of things that play a role in the toxicity of the nursing environment and it’s always, to me, a leadership fail,” Coaxum said. “I really believe we have lost something along the way in the field of nursing…there needs to be a change in nursing.”

Looking into the future, she hopes to open up her own practice – a wellness center – that will implement a wholistic approach to treating mental illness, utilizing exercise as a standard part of treatment. She likens it to a fitness center or YMCA for mental health.

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