Timothy Cunningham, DrPH, MSN, RN

Assistant Professor of Nursing
Assistant Director of the Compassionate Care Initiative

Department: Family, Community & Mental Health Systems
Department: Compassionate Care Initiative

Office:   CMNEB 3026
Phone:   4-0103
Email:   tdc8h@virginia.edu
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 assistant 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.

Tim is fascinated by what gets people out of bed in the morning, what makes children and adults who have witnessed extreme suffering keep going, and what factors help develop and sustain resilience.  His doctoral research focused on the use of narratives to temper compassion fatigue among expatriate healthcare providers who responded to the Ebola epidemic of 2013-2016. While a CNL student at UVA, Cunningham witnessed the birth of programming for the Compassionate Care Initiative and became a facilitator for some of the early care provider retreats. 

Awards and Honors

  • 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


Journal Articles

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. Support in Conflict Affected Areas. 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. (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., 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.

Magazine Editorials

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

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

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

Online Columns/op-eds

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