Like so many in the nursing profession, Cathleen Colleran set out to change the world after the loss of a beloved grandparent to cancer fueled a determination to enter nursing. Although her dream was initially received with a mix of encouragement and skepticism, her inner fire has kept it burning throughout a long and varied career.
Completing a BSN in Nursing from Husson College through Eastern Maine Medical Center, Colleran also earned a master’s degree in Community Health Nursing from the University of Mass-Dartmouth in 2000, and a DNP from Regis College in 2010. She remembers with great affection her undergraduate mentor who, when Cathleen donned a cap and gown for the DNP graduation, sent her a tam o’shanter with their mutual graduation dates embroidered on the rim.
Starting her career as a hospital staff nurse, Colleran realized she wanted more autonomy at work and subsequently became Clinical Nurse Manager for the maternity unit of the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Massachusetts. This experience formed the basis for a deep understanding of the direct correlation between home environment and health, especially for patients struggling with economic constraints or troubling family issues.
“Hospital admissions were a repetitive event for many patients. Breaking the cycle of hospitalization put the spotlight on a pressing need to fix problems at the source.”
Among many poignant experiences as a young home health nurse, Colleran vividly recalls an HIV patient who gave birth to a baby who died of AIDS within eight months. The mother turned her tragic experience into support for good health practices within the AIDS community and they became life-long friends.
Colleran spent four years as Director of Nursing at Morton Hospital and Medical Center before becoming an educator. She lectured at Brockton Hospital of Nursing, taught at Regis College, and served as Assistant Dean at Endicott College. During fourteen years with Curry College, she served as Chair of the School of Nursing and RN-BS Program Coordinator. As a contributing faculty at Walden University, she taught DNP and Master’s level courses and was Chair of the Doctoral Study Committee.
A look at Colleran’s lengthy career is a study on the ability to thrive on difficult challenges. Nine years as an officer in US Army Reserves, she directed simulations for field hospitals in all types of weather and terrain. “I grew up on a farm so somehow it felt perfectly normal to be driving a five-ton truck full of medical equipment.”
During her tenure at Curry College, she and three nursing students volunteered with the Remote Area Medical Foundation for a 3-day pop-up clinic in Tennessee designed to serve the medical needs of the rural population. “In addition to medical care, management of serious dental infections was a common condition. We found it was better to remove all of a patient’s teeth than run the risk of cardiac arrest, so we had a very large jar full of extracted teeth.”
In 2021, Cathleen accepted a position at UNH as Associate Clinical Professor and Program Coordinator for the UNH Online DNP program. She attributes the unusually close connection between UNH students and teachers to their small cohort sizes and the mutual respect of colleagues sharing their knowledge. Students who lack confidence in their abilities find this accessible teaching environment supportive in transforming their potential to achievable reality.
DNP graduates carry their nursing expertise from the bedside to the boardroom where the desire to serve is made actionable by knowledge, training and the credibility inherent in a terminal degree. They use public health data as a tool to identify the changes in nursing practice necessary to improve health outcomes but Colleran is quick to point out that the relationship between data and health outcomes is nothing new. “Florence Nightingale with her primitive knowledge of infection control would be saddened by the poor attention to handwashing that persists today!”
This analytical approach to healthcare policy begs deeper questions about longevity, life quality, and preventive care. “What is health? What is life quality? Every individual must determine what this means in their own life. The fact is that most diseases are preventable through good nutrition, good self-care, and good health practice, and no one sees this more acutely than nurses. I cannot understate the importance of having nurses involved in all aspects of health policy.”
Cathleen has experienced many high points in nursing but the memory that rises to the top is the day her daughter became an RN. “As a girl she watched me study for my DNP and now she is a registered nurse. Her graduation was the proudest moment of my career.”
When life events underscored the need for a counterweight to a demanding career, Colleran bought a small farm where she rides horses, raises chickens, and enjoys driving her tractor.
“Throughout my career, I have always been careful to maintain a good balance between home and work. But, when you feel that tap on the shoulder to put your skills to a leadership role, it is hard to ignore the call. The timing to step into a new role with UNH is perfect and my horses help me stay grounded. For me, this is just the right balance.”
Written by Gwendolyn Goguelet