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Community Health Nursing: Changing Lives From the Classroom to the Neighborhood

Community Health Nursing: Changing Lives From the Classroom to the Neighborhood

Profiles of alumni and students in Community Health

By Ashley Wiggin

While the thought of a nurse often conjures images of bedside care in hospitals and emergency rooms (ERs), or serving patients in a doctor’s office, there are many other ways nurses serve the community. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than a quarter of all registered nurses in the US work in settings that aren’t hospitals, doctors offices, or nursing care facilities.[1] Instead, they work in communities and educational facilities, health departments and government agencies, preventing disease, providing knowledge to communities and working with individuals to find ways to create healthier lives. This article will introduce you to three nurses, who took different paths early in their careers, but ultimately, they committed their lives to various roles in community settings.  One of these nurses is currently a student in the University of Washington School of Nursing’s (UWSON) Community Health Nursing (CHN) Program; the other two are graduates of the CHN program.

The Community Health Nursing Program is a graduate program that offers two degree options to students.  The first, which has existed for more than thirty years is the Master of Nursing (MN) program; and the second, which was introduced just four years ago is the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree program.  You can learn more about these programs at

Students are attracted to the UWSON for many different reasons, as you will read in this article.  Among them is the fact that our school is noted for its exceptional faculty; an innovative, interdisciplinary and flexible curriculum, and the strong partnerships our faculty have worked to create with the community. Key values that characterize the UWSON are “collaboration, social responsibility, integrity, respect, accountability, diversity and excellence”; and these values are integrated into students’ experiences as they participate in this academic journey.  Read the student stories and see just what it means to be a part of the University of Washington School of Nursing’s Community Health Nursing program. You will see that the diversity of experiences and backgrounds, the strength of our faculty and the passion for service make this an excellent program for anyone considering further education in community health.


Barbara HoffmanBarbara HoffmanBarbara Hoffman, DNP, RN, CDE, loved community health from her first experiences in nursing school in California. The recent DNP graduate dedicated her career to working in the community, first for the South Carolina Department of Health where she began her nursing career as a staff nurse, working with women who had high risk pregnancies and later supervising a children in a special healthcare needs program. Later, Hoffman worked in an outpatient mental health program and also worked closely with Navy families during pregnancy and the first three years after babies were born.

“Out of nursing school, I knew that hospitals were not my thing,” she said. “I loved working in community health and with families so I knew that was something I wanted to pursue.”                                                                                                                                           

Currently, Hoffman works with a Native American tribe on the Olympic Peninsula, where she originally held a part-time position as a nurse - the only nurse on staff ten years ago.  She developed the position and now works full-time within this community. Through her work with the tribe, Hoffman helped institute program changes that led to a stronger focus on healthy behaviors. The tribe now employs two full-time nurses and two nutritionists.

“When I started working with the tribe, I realized there were a lot of system-level changes that needed to occur for these families to become healthier,” she said. “I didn’t have the kind of community and system level background to help institute that change, so I decided pursuing higher education through the DNP program (in community health) which I knew would help me achieve that.”

Originally from Arizona, which is where she started nursing school, Hoffman completed her BSN in San Diego.  She came to Washington with her husband when he was stationed at the Naval Base in Kitsap and later moved back to San Diego. Hoffman and her husband moved back to Washington after his retirement from the service. A few years later, Hoffman started to explore the possibility of further education, eventually settling on the UW School of Nursing’s DNP program in Community Health.

“I loved the program and the faculty mentorship has been wonderful and I feel I’ve gained the skills I need to help me do my work with the tribe.”

Hoffman’s current role has allowed her to help develop obesity prevention programs while also helping to re-integrate traditional food choices into the lives of the native tribe members. Policy work initiated during her DNP program is waiting for approval by the tribal council; Barbara is very excited to see some of these policies get put into practice. While she notes that it has taken quite a few years to help the communities understand how they can have a hand in preventing health issues before they start, she says that the tribe is well on its way to developing healthier habits.

“I truly love my job and I feel there is still a lot of work to do,” said Hoffman. “This job has allowed me to put into practice what I’ve learned in the classroom.”

Teresa Garrett-Hill, DNP, MN, RN, was one of the first students to complete the DNP program; she was a member of the School of Nursing’s first cohort in Community Health’s DNP program in 2008. Now working as a Clinical Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing’s Department of Psychosocial and Community Health, Garrett-Hill believes that the DNP program has enabled her to be a better educator and a better practitioner in the community.

Teresa Garrett-HillTeresa Garrett-Hill“I have been impressed by the school’s effort to embrace the DNP program and make it available to those who are working in the community to fine-tune their skills and take the next steps in their leadership roles,” she said. “I was grateful to be part of that program and continue to use those skills I’ve learned in my daily work.

As an oncology nurse, Garrett-Hill went back to school to pursue her Master’s degree in nursing in the late 1990s. Through her career, Garrett-Hill worked with individuals in inpatient, ambulatory and end-of-life care, and had the chance to work with individuals from many different cultures. During her clinical career, she developed an interest in working more on the community level and understanding the role of culture in health and illness, and chose to pursue her MN in Community Health with a focus in cross-cultural nursing at the UW SoN. After completing her Master’s degree, Garrett-Hill spent the next decade working with American Indians and Alaska Natives on a health disparities grant funded  by the National Cancer Institute’s Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities, giving her the chance to put many of the skills she learned in her Master’s program to practice.                                                                                                                                                                                                               

“Through that experience, I began to think about health and nursing differently,” she said. “We are working in a constantly changing environment and I began to wonder how we sustain our systems and disciplines in this evolving environment. This sparked an interest in coming back to school and learning more about policy, translating evidence-based research into real world practice and taking the next step in my leadership roles.”

Teresa Garrett-Hill with students in Nurs 409Teresa Garrett-Hill with students in Nurs 409Garrett-Hill described how her experience in the DNP program allowed her to understand community health better. She notes that the practice inquiry components were especially important in her experience, as they allowed her to better understand health promotion and prevention. She also notes that there is a great emphasis on social justice in community health—how do disparities affect health and disease—and how can practitioners help improve these health outcomes? These questions have helped her to understand her role as an educator of the next generation of nursing students as they learn to “chart their own course” and understand how to improve health outcomes for communities and populations. 

“What stood out to me in the School of Nursing’s DNP program was the variety of resources available to us across campus. The opportunities to work interdisciplinary and interact with different departments and levels were fantastic.”

A self-described lifelong learner, Garrett-Hill notes the importance of increasing your skill-level to be a better practitioner and leader. She also says that there is great opportunity in working with the community to help you reach your goals of advanced learning.

“Nursing is a passion and a calling,” she said. “As a graduate, I feel very proud to be part of the legacy of the UW School of Nursing and to carry this important work forward.”

Kristen Hosey, BSN, RN, current MN and DNP student, joined the Peace Corps in Malawi, Africa shortly after completing her BSN at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte in 2007, which helped her develop a passion for community health nursing.

Kristen HoseyKristen Hosey“Working with these communities helped me to really understand the importance of education and prevention,” she said. “Even during my undergraduate education, I saw lots of patients with preventable conditions and was frustrated that we weren’t able to do more to help keep their conditions from escalating.”

While working in the Peace Corps, Hosey helped create a resource center for a group of people living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), taught nurse midwife technicians at a local college about the fundamentals of nursing, helped community members learn about the role that natural medicine could play in managing conditions and symptoms, and even worked with a group of school girls on life skills and career planning. Sometimes seeing 60 patients to one nurse, Hosey describes the nursing situation in Malawi as one more about creating stability than preventing disease.

Once Hosey knew she wanted to pursue graduate education in Community Health Nursing, she knew she wanted to pursue her education at the University of Washington School of Nursing.

“One of my fellow nurse educators in Malawi had gone to school at the (University of Washington) SoN and highly recommended it. After learning more about the program and its focus on community health and its top-ranked status, I knew it would be a good fit for me,” she said. 

Thus, she packed her bags, moved to the West Coast, and began her program of studies in Community Health Nursing. 

Kristen Hosey in AfricaKristen Hosey in AfricaHosey’s original goal was to earn a Master’s degree, but after she was in the program for few months, she decided to pursue the DNP and earn a Master’s in passing, which she will complete this fall. Hosey notes the uniqueness of the SoN’s Community Health Nursing program which contributed to the richness of her experience.  She commented on the availability of extensive resources and the great clinical and leadership opportunities. She also noted that the strength of the graduate school, access to collaborative opportunities with other schools like the School of Public Health and the Evans School, and the diversity of faculty expertise that make this program stellar.

“One of the greatest things about this program is the diversity that exists,” She said. “You have faculty working on projects from tribal health to occupational health to homelessness (and more). This is a great experience for students to have because as a community health nurse, the community you work in is going to be diverse.”

After Hosey completes her DNP next summer, she hopes to pursue a career as a nurse educator or a global health leader, sparked by her first experiences working in the Peace Corps.


“I’m proud to be part of UW School of Nursing because I believe that the education and research and work done here at the university is top-notch and the SoN is a pioneer in the field of nursing education,” she said. “Being a part of the work being done here is an amazing opportunity. People who come out of the School of Nursing are going to be leaders in nursing and community health.”


For more information about Community Health Nursing and degree programs, please visit If you’re interested in discussing the program with one of our current faculty members, please contact Dr. Noel Chrisman, PhD, at


[1] US Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Photo Captions: Top- Barbara Hoffman; Middle- Teresa Garrett-Hill, Garrett-Hill working with others in a SoN course; Bottom- Kristen Hosey, Hosey teaching in Africa