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Debra H. Brandon, PhD, RN, CCNS, FAAN

Associate Professor in the School of Nursing
(919) 681-3813
3144 Pearson Building

Debra Brandon, Associate Professo joined the faculty of the Duke University School of Nursing in 1999. She has practiced as a Neonatal Clinical Nurse Specialist in the Intensive Care Nursery of Duke University Medical Center since 1994. She has extensive clinical experience in neonatology, pediatrics, and child development. She received her BSN and MSN from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and earned her PhD in Nursing at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2000.

Before joining the Duke faculty, Dr. Brandon was a pediatric clinical nurse specialist at the Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, NY, and a developmental clinical nurse specialist at the Center for Development and Learning in Chapel Hill, NC. She was also on the faculty in the nursing and medical schools of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Brandon is an active member of the National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN) and the International Society for Infant Studies ISIS), and is a co-editor for the journal Advances in Neonatal Care. Her research interests include the effects of the intensive care environment on the growth and development of pre-term infants.

Academic Program Affiliations

  • PhD in Nursing Program
  • Master of Science in Nursing Program
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice Program


  • PhD - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • MSN - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • BSN - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Research Interests

Dr. Brandon’s research focuses on the health and development of high-risk infants and young children with an overall goal of improving the short- and long-term outcomes of high-risk preterm infants and their families. Dr. Brandon has conducted two longitudinal studies with preterm infants (F-31 NR07180; R01 NR008044), which compared the effects of day-night cycling of light to continuous near darkness in preterm infants using a randomized longitudinal design. These studies have evaluated the effects of early and late cycled light on short- and long-term health and developmental outcomes including sleep-wake state development, weight gain, lung maturation, length of hospitalization, auditory and visual development, and neurodevelopmental outcomes (NR008044).

Dr. Brandon was also co-investigator on an RO1 evaluating the relationship between preterm infant sleep and their long-term outcomes (R29 NR01894, D. Holditch-Davis, PI). These studies have led to her expertise in infant sleep and the development of a new instrumented measure of sleep-wake assessment. Most recently Dr. Brandon completed two pilot studies evaluating palliative and end-of-life care for infants and children with life-threatening conditions, and is now engaged in research examining decision-making for infants with complex life-threatening conditions (R01 1R01NR010548-01A1, S. Docherty, PI, Brandon Co-PI). These decisions include whether to initiate treatment, how to alter the treatment to respond to a medical crisis, whether to shift from aggressive curative care to symptom-focused palliative care, and whether to withdraw treatment.

Awards and Honors

  • 2015 || Oustanding PhD Faculty Award, Duke University School of Nursing
  • 2012 || Jonas Nurse Leaders Scholar Program Award, Jonas Center for Nursing Excellence
  • 2011 || Junior Researcher Mentee, Senior and Junior Researcher Dyad Program, National Institute of Nursing Research / Summit, the Science of Compassion: Future Directions in End-of-Life and Palliative Care
  • 2009 || Fellow, American Academy of Nursing
  • 2008 || Donna Wong Pediatric Nursing Writing Award, Pediatric Nursing
  • 2007 || Abstract Award, National Association of Neonatal Nurses
  • 2002 || Nurse Research Mentor Award, Duke University Hospital
  • 2001 || Research Dissertation Award, Sigma Theta Tau International, Region 7
  • 1980 || Inducted, Sigma Theta Tau (Alpha Alpha Chapter)

Areas of Expertise

  • Neonatal Nursing
  • Palliative Care
  • Quality of Care / Patient Safety

Areas of Interest

Environmental effects on health and development of preterm infants (cycled light, noise)
Infant sleep
Neonatal/pediatric palliative care
Decision making for infants and children with life-threatening conditions
Maternal distress with high risk infants
Neonatal care practices: Effectiveness of skin care interventions

Representative Publications

  • 2015 -- PubMed # : 26340035 Hartz, L. E. and Bradshaw, W. and Brandon, D. H. Potential NICU Environmental Influences on the Neonate's Microbiome: A Systematic Review. Adv Neonatal Care. October, 2015 15(5); 324-35 PMC4583357
  • 2015 -- PubMed # : 25932696 Park, J. and Knafl, G. and Thoyre, S. and Brandon, D. Factors associated with feeding progression in extremely preterm infants. Nurs Res. July, 2015 64(3); 159-67 PMC4418036
  • 2015 -- PubMed # : 26134427 Costa, P. and Kimura, A. F. and Brandon, D. H. and Damiani, L. P. Predictors of Nonelective Removal of Peripherally Inserted Central Catheters in Infants. Biol Res Nurs. July, 2015, Epub ahead of print
  • 2015 -- PubMed # : 26155011 Costa, P. and Kimura, A. F. and Brandon, D. H. and Paiva, E. D. and Camargo, P. P. The development of a risk score for unplanned removal of peripherally inserted central catheter in newborns. Rev Lat Am Enfermagem. June, 2015 23(3); 475-82 PMC4547071
  • 2015 -- PubMed # : 25626714 Tully, K. P. and Holditch-Davis, D. and Brandon, D. The Relationship Between Planned and Reported Home Infant Sleep Locations Among Mothers of Late Preterm and Term Infants. Matern Child Health J. January, 2015
  • 2014 -- PubMed # : 25422920 McGrath, J. M. and Brandon, D. Whether writing alone or with others, authorship requires thoughtfulness. Adv Neonatal Care. December, 2014 14(6); 363-5
  • 2014 -- PubMed # : 25137596 Brandon, D. and McGrath, J. M. Writing an abstract to sell your scholarly work. Adv Neonatal Care. October, 2014 14(5); 301-2
  • 2014 -- PubMed # : 25341195 Younge, N. and Smith, P. B. and Goldberg, R. N. and Brandon, D. H. and Simmons, C. and Cotten, C. M. and Bidegain, M. Impact of a palliative care program on end-of-life care in a neonatal intensive care unit. J Perinatol. October, 2014
  • 2014 -- PubMed # : 25075918 McGrath, J. M. and Brandon, D. Searching the literature is not for the faint of heart! Adv Neonatal Care. August, 2014 14(4); 229-31
  • 2014 -- Allen, K. A. and Brandon, D. H. and Holditch-Davis, D. and Cotton, C. M. and Docherty, S. L. Parent and provider decision-making for infants with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy Journal of Pregnancy and Child Health. August, 2014 1 106


Grant Funding (Selected)

  • Future of Nursing Scholars 2015

    Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
    04/2015 to 08/2018

    Project Goal: The goal of the RWJ grant is to increase the number of PhD nurses with a broad perspective on science and its application to solving challenging health problems facing our nation, particularly those related to chronic illness and care systems; experience with common and emerging research designs and methods; rigorous training in statistics; and mentored research and teaching practica to reinforce knowledge acquisition and skill development. Program graduates will assume roles in academic and research settings.

  • Future of Nursing Scholars 2014

    Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
    09/2014 to 08/2017
    Role: PD

    Project Goal: The goal of the RWJ grant is to increase the number of PhD nurses with a broad perspective on science and its application to solving challenging health problems facing our nation, particularly those related to chronic illness and care systems; experience with common and emerging research designs and methods; rigorous training in statistics; and mentored research and teaching practica to reinforce knowledge acquisition and skill development. Program graduates will assume roles in academic and research settings.

  • MSN Nursing Program Partnership for Bridges to the Doctorate

    National Institutes of Health
    09/2012 to 06/2017
    Role: Project Director

    Project Goal: The objectives of this new Bridges to the Doctorate program are to: (1) graduate seven WSSU underrepresented minority MSN students admitted to the Research Honors track on time; (2) increase the number of WSSU underrepresented minority MSN graduates who seamlessly transition to PhD programs in nursing and related biomedical/behavioral science disciplines from a historical six year total of 2 students to 4 students over four years; and (3) demonstrate that four Bridges Scholars enrolled for at least one year in nursing and other related biomedical/behavioral science PhD programs are progressing on time and in a satisfactory manner.

  • Cultural Understandings about Food among Black Mothers and Adolescent Daughters

    Philip D. Reed Foundation, Inc.
    Reed Fdn Fellow
    10/2014 to 07/2017

    Project Goal: To explore the interactions between cultural understandings about food, their intergenerational transfer, the mother-daughter relationship, and dietary practices among Black adolescent girls and their mothers.

  • Trajectories of Parental Bereavement Challenges and their Health Risks; A Case-based Mixed Methods Study

    American Nurses Foundation, Inc.
    09/2014 to 08/2015

    Project Goal: To describe parental bereavement trajectory, beginning just prior to the death of a chronically ill child (0-5 years) through 6 months post-death of their child, and to identify the co-occurrence of the challenges, work, and physical, psychological, and social health risk indicators.

  • Decision-Making for Infants with Complex Life-Threatening Conditions

    1R01 NR010548-01A1
    10/2008 to 09/2013

    Project Goal: This longitudinal multiple case study will examine the trajectory of decision-making for infants undergoing life-sustaining treatments for complex life-threatening conditions and factors influencing parent’s decision-making.

  • Mother-Daughter Relationship Influences on Daughters' Dietary Practices

    National Institutes of Health
    09/2014 to 06/2017

    Project Goal: To explore the relationship between Black mothers and adolescent daughters and examine how the relationship might contribute to the daughter’s dietary practices.

  • Sleep-Wake State and Feeding Competency in Very Preterm Infants

    American Nurses Foundation, Inc.
    09/2014 to 08/2015

    Project Goal: The purpose of this study is to examine the relationships between sleep-wake states prior to, during, and after feeding and feeding regulation in very preterm infants while the infants are transitioning from half to full oral feeding.

  • Parental Bereavement Trajectories: Relationship to Health Risk Indicators

    National Association of Indian Nurses of America
    09/2014 to 08/2015
  • Microbial succession and adaptive immune responses in premature infant

    National Institutes of Health
    03/2014 to 12/2017
    Role: Co-investigator

    The goal of this project is to evaluate the changes in preterm infant immune responses across the development of the microbiome until one year of age.


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Duke University School of Nursing’s PhD Program recently received the 2018 Dean’s Award for Inclusive Excellence in Graduate Education. The PhD program was selected from a highly competitive pool of nominees for its consistent and intentional creation of an environment that demonstrates and is dedicated to exemplary inclusiveness and diversity in graduate education.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Congratulations to Tracey Yap, Debra Brandon and Mary Lou Affronti who each recently received an award from the Southern Nursing Research Society (SNRS) at the 2018 SNRS 32nd annual conference in Atlanta, GA.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Deb Brandon was recently featured in an article entitled "Six Honored by Cook Society for Leadership & Community Activism" published on Duke Today.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Debra Brandon, PhD, RN, CNS, FAAN, associate professor at Duke University School of Nursing, recently received the 2018 Samuel DuBois Cook Society Award. This award recognizes individuals who reflect in their work and academic pursuit the objectives to which Dr. Cook dedicated his professional life—social justice, mentoring and seeking to improve relations among people of all backgrounds.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

PhD student Ashlee Vance and Deb Brandon recently had an article they co-authored entitled "Delineating parenting competence concepts" featured on ANS: Advances in Nursing Science Blog. 


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Debra Brandon has been selected to receive a 2018 Samuel DuBois Cook Society award, presented on Feb. 20 at the Washington Duke Inn. The coveted award is presented annually to individuals who routinely enrich the lives of people in the Duke community and contribute to the betterment of all people, above and beyond what is part of their position description. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Deb Brandon, Susan Silva and Diane Holditch-Davis were recently notified that their paper entitled "Timing for the Introduction of Cycled Light for Extremely Preterm Infants: A Randomized Controlled Trial" was selected for the Research In Nursing and Health (RINAH) Best Paper Award for 2017. Their paper was one of 10 papers nominated and their paper was identified in a rigorous rating process by a subcommittee of the Editorial Board. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Deb Brandon recently received the 2017 Distinguished Service Award at The National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NAAN) 33rd Annual Educational Conference on Oct. 12 in Providence, RI. Her award recognized her dedicated service to NAAN and her countless contributions to the neonatal nursing community. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Congratulations to Deb Brandon who has received an award for her Kimberly Clark Foundation investigator-initiated proposal entitled: "Very Low Birth Weight Preterm Baby Health Outcomes with Bundled Care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit." This award is for a one-year period, awarded Oct. 1, 2017 to Sept. 30, 2018. This project was awarded at $230,388 for the one-year project period.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

PhD student Kaboni Gondwe recently published an article entitled "The role of sociodemographic factors in maternal psychological distress and mother-preterm infant interactions" in the September issue of Research in Nursing & Health. Co-authors include Rosemary White-Traut, Debra Brandon, Wei Pan and Diane Holditch-Davis.