James Madison University

Nursing Outside the Hospital

By: Brett Seekford
Posted: April 3, 2015

Dr. Linda Hulton, a Professor of Nursing and the Coordinator of the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Program, recently earned the Alger Family Faculty Endowment Award. The honor is funded by JMU President Jonathan Alger’s family and recognizes the facets of a faculty member’s career that exemplify engaged learning, civic engagement and community engagement. Hulton’s achievement serves as a capstone to a storied career that continues to develop.

PHOTO:Linda Hulton

Hulton’s career did not begin in academia; instead, her work in hospitals precipitated her interest in researching methods of preventing the need for medical interventions. “One night when I was working night shift in a critical care unit in my twenties, I was looking around and saw that everyone in the critical care unit looked like they were young and dying,” she explained. “I began thinking about prevention and why these people ended up there. I became really interested in what was going on in the lives of my patients beyond the walls of the hospital.”

Once she thought about nursing differently, Hulton pursued graduate school and eventually earned her Ph.D. in Nursing with a specialty in public and community health. “Since then, I’ve been concerned with prevention and vulnerable populations,” she explained. “I want to keep people out of hospitals. That’s how I want to use my degree.”

Vulnerable populations, the hallmark of Hulton’s research, are broadly defined as any population that copes with health circumstances outside of the hospital, such as pregnant and parenting teenagers, HIV/AIDS patients and homeless people. Poverty is often associated with these populations.

Since coming to JMU and being mentored by the late Dr. Vida Huber, Hulton has introduced numerous initiatives that aim to raise awareness of and treat issues confronting vulnerable populations.

Roughly seventeen years ago, Hulton helped bring the “Life in the State of Poverty” simulations to the university. This simulation assigns students to roles in a family, such as a minimum wage earning single mother. The activity is supposed to be four weeks, but that time frame is compressed into two hours which makes the living situation even more stressful.

“Students remember receiving their paychecks and it just demonstrated that they didn’t have a livable wage,” Hulton explained. “It also introduced them to important community resources used to mitigate the effects of poverty that they didn’t previously know about.”

Along with “Life in the State of Poverty,” Hulton has also worked collaboratively with a coalition to create Suitcase Clinics that provide free healthcare services and medications to homeless people in Harrisonburg. These mobile clinics have aided over 400 homeless people in the area. In spring 2016, they will be used as a shared practicum site for graduate students from various disciplines.

Hulton’s teaching has been integral to her success as well. Since becoming Coordinator of the new DNP Program, she mainly teaches graduate students, but she fondly recalls teaching undergraduates. “I most hope for my students to always be authentic and care for vulnerable populations,” Hulton stated. “I want students to gain important insight that may not pertain to their personal experiences but will expand their understanding.”

Due to this extensive list of accomplishments, Hulton was nominated by the Nursing Department head, Dr. Julie Sanford, for the Alger Family Faculty Endowment Award. With the recommendation of the dean, she was selected.

“I was completely shocked when I was told I won. I was surprised I was nominated for it to begin with,” Hulton said. “The award really described my life and my goals as a public health specialist. My laboratory is the community and that’s where I practice. Receiving the award was shocking, but it didn’t feel any different from what I’ve been doing at JMU for the last seventeen years.”

Hulton’s work does not end with this award. She plans to continue to develop and expand the DNP Program. “It’s exciting to be working with experienced, practicing nurses who are executives within hospitals and Advanced Practice Nurses,” she explained. She is also working on Interprofessional Education with a group of graduate students to help them have more interprofessional clinical experiences that will improve patient outcomes. Her research and teaching continues to epitomize her life mantra: “‘Ut prosim: That I may serve.”