Dr. Marissa Barrera

For her many years of work dedicated to people with Multiple Sclerosis, Dr. Marissa Barrera, director of the Katz School’s Speech-Language Pathology program, has received the Health Care Professional Champion Award from the National MS Society.

“It’s been everything,” said Dr. Barrera of her focus on helping people with Multiple Sclerosis and their loved ones. “It has shaped everything I do.”

Multiple Sclerosis can be difficult to diagnose early because the symptoms, like numbness, tingling or fatigue, can have a wide range of causes. Most people with the disease have the “relapsing-remitting” form, which means they experience a cycle of worsening and recovery that usually last days or weeks. It usually takes its toll on the body with a kind of rigid weakness and loss of coordination.

“Someone with M.S. requires every skillset that I’ve been trained to utilize,” said Dr. Barrera who received the award in 2019. “They have challenges with communications sometimes, major challenges with swallowing and fatigue. They require social work and empathy, counseling, family support and advocacy. There’s discrimination in the workplace. It touches on everything, and I love that.”

She said the Katz School is unique among its peers because students in the Speech-Language Pathology program don’t just study Multiple Sclerosis for a Multiple Sclerosis Certified Specialist (MSCS) certification, they learn from people like her who are sub-specialized.

“At Yeshiva, we keep our teaching to those things that we’re truly experts on,” said Dr. Barrera. “That’s unheard of.”

Dr. Barrera got heavily involved in Multiple Sclerosis as a doctoral student at the City University of New York where she wrote her dissertation on “The effect of physical fatigue on expressive language skills in individuals with M.S.”

In 2008, while still a graduate student, she started an MS specialty clinic for New York Neurogenic Speech-Language Pathology, where she continues to oversee the treatment of approximately 600 patients a month with developmental and neurological disabilities, including Multiple Sclerosis. The center is a certified M.S. Partner in Care by the National M.S. Society.

Early on in her career, she learned of an opportunity to become sub-specialized in M.S. care and got involved in the Consortiums of Multiple Sclerosis Centers (CMSC). In 2009, she was one of only two speech pathologists in the country to obtain the MSCS certification. Today, fewer than 15 have this certification, which must be renewed every five years.

Since 2011, she has sat on the clinical advisory committee of the New York City chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and since 2012 she has been a member of the clinical advisory board of the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation and has served as distinguished faculty for the CMSC. In 2010, she was the recipient of the M.S. Rehabilitation Fellowship.

In addition to Multiple Sclerosis, Dr. Barrera is a recognized expert on the use of modalities—Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES), sEMG, neuromuscular taping, ultrasound—for speech and swallowing rehabilitation and provides clinical training courses globally. She has lectured in over 15 countries on a wide array of clinical topics, including dysphagia, NMES, motor speech disorders, cognition and neurogenerative diseases.

She also has authored or co-authored several peer-reviewed publications and over 80 research abstracts. In 2019, she wrote the chapter, A Hard Pill to Swallow, for A Caregiver’s Guide to Aging, to be published by Johns Hopkins University Press, and in 2014 a chapter on Multiple Sclerosis: Intervention Strategies for Rehabilitation for the sixth edition of Physical Rehabilitation, published by F.A. Davis Company.

The Katz School of Science and Health is an academic powerhouse in the heart of New York City. It offers master’s programs in five sectors that are redefining the economy: Artificial Intelligence, Cybersecurity, Biotech and Health, Digital Media, and Fintech. In the lab, classroom and clinic, we lead with kindness, integrity, generosity and a commitment to making the world safer, smarter and healthier.

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