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Leaving A Nursing Legacy 65 over 65 - Dr. Jill Strawn

Pearl of Wisdom
"Make self-care a high priority; it's not selfish and you'll give the best care to your patients!"

About the Honoree
While starting out as a medical-surgical nurse, Dr. Strawn's nursing career evolved over time into one of weaving together social justice activism, clinical expertise in psychiatric nursing, and nurturing practicing and future nurses through clinical and academic teaching.

The first clinical position Dr. Strawn had after becoming a clinical nurse specialist was at a teaching hospital in Philadelphia, a hotbed of holistic theory and practice in the late 1970s. Through exposure to many of the so-called alternative therapies, her nursing philosophy and practice evolved. She studied and practiced hypnotherapy with hospitalized patients, helped create a hospital-based Staff Nutrition Action Committee (SNAC) and became a student of Therapeutic Touch with Dolores Krieger.

Dr. Strawn was working and teaching as an advanced practice nurse in a joint appointment at Yale School of Nursing/Yale New Haven Hospital/Yale School of Medicine in 1983 when the first patients with HIV/AIDS were being treated at YNHH. This was during the period when there was no name and no treatment for those infected with the virus and fear and stigma rampant among the public and health care workers. In response to the stigma which resulted in caregivers and families pulling away from these patients, Dr. Strawn collaborated with several YNHH caregivers and community activists to create a volunteer network to provide community education and support; this effort resulted in the formation of AIDS Project New Haven. She helped APNH create a hotline for information, a buddy network to offer social and emotional support to patients and a food program for homebound patients. She planned and participated in education programs held in the community and in the hospital.

In 1985 there was a critical need for safe housing for those infected with HIV/AIDS and Dr. Strawn provided testimony at the CT State Legislature in support of bond funds to purchase a house in New Haven. She was the co-founder of the CT AIDS Housing Program which went on to provide confidential supportive housing for hundreds of people living with HIV/AIDS. CARP started out housing gay men with HIV/AIDS and as the epidemic spread to injection drug users, bought two more houses and created supportive housing for those ill individuals committed to recovering from addiction. Over time, CARP expanded its mission to housing for those at risk for HIV/AIDS and changed its name to Liberty Community Services; today this agency is a thriving housing and social service organization.

By 1986 the virus causing HIV/AIDS had been identified and anti-viral treatment begun. There was a push to have testing of individuals engaging in risky behavior for contracting HIV and a national dialogue ensued about how to protect their confidentiality. Stigma against those living with HIV remained extremely high and anonymous testing began. Dr. Strawn was hired by the New Haven Health Department to create the first anonymous testing program in CT. She developed the counseling protocol that was used in the pre- and post-test appointments and became a resource for other CT health departments.

In 1991 Dr. Strawn was hired by Hill Health Center - a community health center in the Hill area in New Haven to create and manage an HIV/AIDS mental health and case management program. This involved developing the intake process for clients; hiring, training and supervising four case managers and providing psychiatric care to individuals experiencing significant emotional or mental health disturbance. While in this position Dr. Strawn attended graduate studies at Teacher College, Columbia University and developed a qualitative research study to better understand those individuals living with HIV/AIDS who were telling no one in their family or social network about their illness.

Dr. Strawn spent many years speaking at community and professional meetings, initially about the medical aspects of HIV/AIDS and later focusing on the psycho/social/spiritual aspects of living with the virus. She planned, organized and spoke at local and national nursing conferences on HIV/AIDS and wrote articles and book chapters about the experience of living with and dying from HIV/AIDS. She was included in an educational video that both focused on the facts of the virus, but also the lived experience of individuals with the virus.

Over a period of thirty years, full-time teaching positions were held at Yale School of Nursing, the College of New Rochelle in the Holistic Nursing Graduate Program, Southern CT State University and Salve Regina University. While teaching at SCSU, Dr. Strawn's scholarship focused on spirituality and nursing; she created and taught electives in guided imagery, mind-body connections and spirituality. She also created a website, Tending Nightingales Garden, a site that offered her meditations for nurses.

Congratulations Jill, we applaud all that you do for nursing in Connecticut!


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