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. (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, 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