Personal Statement

Laughter is not the best medicine; yet too often, it's the only one available. After witnessing the death of a child in a country not far from the U.S. border - a child who died of malnutrition just 700 miles away from an American population dying from over nutrition, obesity and chronic disease influenced by overconsumption - I decided to change my career. I started my career as a clown with Clowns Without Borders, work that has taken me to 20 countries, zones of war, places rife with disease and natural disasters. It's clear to me that, despite a wealth of differences in this world that add human value to the diversity of this planet, we all laugh in the same language. I am in interested in learning more about how people laugh together, how people play together, and how this togetherness improves health. After witnessing the death of a child born with too little, I decided to become an emergency nurse, which then brought me to a doctorate in public health and now, here.


Tim Cunningham, DrPH, MSN, RN - an assistant professor of nursing, an assistant professor in the drama department, and director of the Compassionate Care Initiative - earned a BA in English from the College of William and Mary, worked as a professional actor and teacher, then joined the CNL program at the University of Virginia. After earning an MSN from UVA, he worked as a pediatric and adult trauma/emergency nurse while also serving as executive director of Clowns Without Borders, USA, work that took him around the world, including to post-earthquake Haiti where a documentary film "Send in the Clowns" featured him and his colleagues. Tim completed a doctorate in public health in 2016 at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in the department of population and family health.

Honors and Awards

  • Decade Award, University of Virginia School of Nursing Alumni Association (2016)
  • Lynne Loomis-Price Humanitarian Award, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University (2016)
  • Schulze Speaker Series Award, the Schulze Fund for Interdisciplinary Studies and the Life of the Mind Program, University of Northern Colorado (2016)
  • Witten Family/Allan Rosenfield Global Health Scholarship, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University (2013)
  • Global Visionary Award, University of Virginia School of Nursing (2009)

Research Focus

Resilience, psycho-social support for healthcare providers, the benefits of artistic interventions in hospital settings

Clinical Focus

Emergency care, pediatrics, humanitarian response

News and TV


Journal Articles

Cunningham, T. (2019). Another Ebola outbreak provides an occasion for reflection. American Journal of Nursing, 119(1), 11. doi:10.1097/01.NAJ.0000552588.00224.5b

Ducar, D. M., & Cunningham, T. (2019). Honoring life after death: Mapping the spread of the pause. American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Medicine, 36(5), 429-435. doi:10.1177/1049909118813553

Trail, J., & Cunningham, T. (2018). The compassionate university: How University of Virginia is changing the culture of compassion at a large, American public university. Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice, 6(3), 49-56. doi:10.14297/jpaap.v6i3.358

Cunningham, T. (2018). Critical compassion. HealthManagement, 18(5), 362-364.

Cunningham, T. (2018). Vicious. The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine, 6(1), 1-4.

Cunningham, T. (2018). A clinic on the edge of genocide. Journal of Emergency Nursing, 44(4), 421-426. doi:10.1016/j.jen.2018.04.010

Cunningham, T., Catallozzi, M., & Rosenthal, D. (2018). Camaraderie and community: Buffers against compassion fatigue among expatriate healthcare workers during the Ebola epidemic of 2013-16. Health Emergency and Disaster Nursing, 5(1), 2-11. doi:10.24298/hedn.2016-0014

Cunningham, T. (2017). International public health emergencies: Lessons learned in West Africa. Nursing, 47(9), 1-4. doi:10.1097/01.NURSE.0000522010.36514.dc

Cunningham, T., & Sesay, A. (2017). The triple menace in volunteer aid work: Three harmful pitfalls. Journal of Emergency Nursing, 43(5), 478-81. doi:10.1016/j.jen.2017.05.016

Cunningham, T., Rosenthal, D., & Catallozzi, M. (2017). Narrative medicine practices as a potential therapeutic tool used by expatriate Ebola caregivers. Intervention, 15(2), 106-119. doi:10.1097/WTF.0000000000000138

Catallozzi, M., Cunningham, T., & Striplin, M. (2016). The use of narrative practices by expatriate health care providers treating Ebola patients in Western Africa from 2013-2016. The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine, 4(2), 1-4.

Cunningham, T. (2016). Two minutes. The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine, 4(2), 1-4.

Cunningham, T. (2015). The sunshine chairs. The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine, 3(2), 1-4.

Cunningham, T. (2015). Measuring suffering: assessing chronic stress through hair cortisol measurement in humanitarian settings. Intervention.Vol 13, No 1, 19-27. doi:10.1097/wtf.0000000000000073

Cunningham, T. (2014). A good night out. The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine, 2(1), 1-4.

Cunningham, T. (2013). Sweating the small stuff. Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics, 3(2), E9-11.

Cunningham, T., Bartels, J., Grant, C., & Ralph, M., (2010). Mindfulness and medical review: A grassroots approach to improving work/life balance and nursing retention in a level I trauma center emergency department. Journal of Emergency Nursing, 39(2), 200-202.

Columns, Editorials and Op-Eds

Cunningham, T. (2018, August 25). In death's wake, the power of The Pause: Column. Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved from

Cunningham, T. (2018, Summer). Clown as catalyst. AATH Humor Voice. Retrieved from

Cunningham, T. (2017, Dec. 17). Compassion in the Crevices: A Nurse's Story [Column]. The Richmond Times Dispatch. Retrieved from

Cunningham, T. (2015, December 24). Why we never got Ebola: A Christmas story. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from