Advocating for Equity in Global Public Health

by Kristin Dumont
Dr. Barbara J. Hatcher ’67 (NUR) has dedicated her career to improving health outcomes through nursing and public health leadership.

 

Over the course of 51 years of nursing, instigating system-wide change, and providing leadership in health care policy and practice, Dr. Barbara Hatcher ’67 (NUR) has achieved many breakthroughs, as an African American, a woman, and a nurse.

She was the first nurse and African-American nurse to sit on the March of Dimes Medical Advisory Committee. She was the first nurse selected for her hometown of Waterbury’s Hall of Fame. She served as the first chief science officer for the American Public Health Association. And she was the first woman, first African American, and first nurse to serve as secretary general of the World Federation of Public Health Associations.

But the firsts don’t even begin to tell the whole story of Dr. Hatcher’s career.

After graduating from UConn’s School of Nursing, where she learned from Kate Hyder, who championed the training of African-American women as nurse-midwives, Dr. Hatcher worked with the Visiting Nurse Association of Washington D.C. in primarily low-income neighborhoods, including those destroyed during the 1968 riots after the death of Martin Luther King Jr.

There, desperate addicts tried to steal nurses’ syringes, families didn’t have enough to eat, and seniors were living in deplorable conditions. “It took everything you learned in school plus an understanding of place and context to provide care,” she says. “But I loved this job, and I felt I made a difference.” The experience inspired her to become one of the first pediatric nurse practitioners in the District of Columbia and the United States.

The work she had done with families, mothers and children in these communities served as the foundation of her work in public health programming and shaping policy.

“Health policy is important, because you have a constantly revolving cycle of people who cannot reach their full potential due to systemic stressors in their lives,” she says. “Nurses work around the barriers that exist for certain populations, but the aim should be to improve the system for the whole population.”

Dr. Hatcher, who also holds Master of Public Health from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a Ph.D. in Nursing Administration and Health Policy from George Mason University, has collaborated with a variety of local, national and international organizations to address health inequities and expand the use of evidence-based practices.

She founded the D.C. Department of Health’s multimillion-dollar Healthy Start project to reduce infant mortality and barriers to pre-natal care; served as chair of the District of Columbia Board of Nursing, where she worked to establish rules and regulations for expanded nursing practice; and established a program in Kenya to support the salaries of two nurses providing care to HIV/AIDS orphans in conjunction with the Alpha Chapter of Chi Eta Phi Sorority — a professional organization of registered nurses and nursing students founded in 1932 when black nurses were barred from joining the American Nurses Association.

Dr. Hatcher currently serves as president of the Chi Eta Phi Educational Foundation and runs a health care consulting firm, Hatcher-DuBois-Odrick Group, LLC. She has been named a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing and honored with the National Black Nurses Association’s Trailblazer Award in recognition of her efforts to eliminate barriers for African-American nurses and their patients.

“The Code of Ethics for Nurses compels us to ‘practice with compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and unique attributes of every individual,’” she says. “Nurses must be part of the broader fabric of society in order to make certain we can eliminate health disparities for good.”

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