Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ - #healthynurse Spotlight Series - Katie Huffling, DNP, RN, CNM, FAAN 4339

Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ - #healthynurse Spotlight Series - Katie Huffling, DNP, RN, CNM, FAAN


Nurse brings passion and optimism to environmental health issues.

Sometimes it only takes a spark to ignite the fire within. For #healthynurse Katie Huffling that spark came when she attended a guest lecture while earning her master’s degree in midwifery. The speaker focused on environmental health, and Katie was hooked.

“I started to learn more about environmental health, realizing the significant impact environmental exposures can have on reproductive health,” Katie says. “I'd been studying to be a nurse midwife and trying to help families have healthy pregnancies and babies and these exposures can make it challenging. Many people don't even know they're exposed to these chemicals and other things in their environment.”

Katie combines her passion for nursing and her dedication to environmental health through her work as the executive director for the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE). But her optimistic attitude and devotion to sustainability go beyond work and define Katie as a person.

Growing Up Green
Looking back, it’s not surprising that Katie engaged in environmental health. Awareness of her ecological footprint is second nature, thanks to her family. “What’s funny is my mom always gave us organic foods and avoided pesticides and things,” Katie says. “I didn't even realize that other people didn't grow up like that.”

Katie’s upbringing and her passion for environmental health have created a strong foundation for how she lives her life today. Katie tries to avoid chemicals whenever possible and uses less-toxic products. But she admits that it’s not easy.

“You can go down such a rabbit hole trying to stay clear of every single thing that could potentially contain harmful chemicals,” Katie says. “I try to strike a balance. I don't want to make myself crazy, but I try to do my best.”

Finding Her Purpose
Katie loved working as a nurse midwife. But she began to see the toll poor air quality had on her patient population.

“My patients often had to take multiple buses to see me,” Katie remembers. “On poor air quality days, they’d be wheezing by the time they got to me because they’d spent time breathing in pollution. It made me angry. It wasn’t good for them or their unborn children, and they shouldn’t have to put up with it.”

Katie realized she couldn’t stand by and watch what was happening. She was asked by her colleague who was leading the work of ANHE at that time to share her experiences and gave testimony at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about ozone and air quality. And when the opportunity came to work full-time on environmental health issues, she jumped at the chance.

“I felt like I could impact my patients and their families, working with them one-on-one,” Katie says. “But working for an organization on this issue, I have the potential to exponentially increase my reach to thousands of nurses and nursing organizations. I can help thousands, or millions, of people be healthier.”

Putting Passion in Its Place
It’s hard to escape environmental issues — they’re constantly the focus of attention in the news and social media. For Katie, that makes it challenging to separate herself from work.

Katie finds balance by:
  • Allowing herself to say no: Like many other nurses, Katie’s passion for her work makes it easy to say yes to everything. But she realized she was taking on way too much. “Giving yourself permission to say no,” she says, “is a very powerful tool.”
  • Tackling change one step at a time: Katie has learned that change takes time, especially on a large scale. It’s okay to leave tasks for tomorrow’s to-do list.
  • Taking time to recharge daily: Katie takes a walk each day to step away and clear her head. She finds that just getting out and moving can be rejuvenating.

An Attitude of Change
Katie admits that raising awareness of environmental health issues takes a village — some days are harder than others. But surrounding yourself with people who have the same passion can make all the difference.

“The nurses who work with us are inspiring,” Katie says. “They’re dedicated and passionate about this issue. It keeps me hopeful — seeing the momentum and people from around the world who have similar values about environmental health.”

Katie is a positive person, believing optimism is at the heart of her work. She’s always admired her colleague’s poster, which reads, “Joy is Resistance.” For Katie, the message sums up the best way to bring about change.

“It’s not about being angry or blaming other people for the current situation,” she says. “It’s about being joyful and optimistic. That’s how we bring about the change we want to see.”

Katie Huffling, DNP, RN, CNM, FAAN is executive director for the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. She is also the co-chair for ANA’s Climate Change Collaboration, developing environmental health policy and resources for all nurses.
RELATED: Managing The Impact Of Climate Change On Human Health


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Blog #healthynurse Spotlight 03/06/2023 9:24am CST

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The #healthynurse Spotlight is a shout out to nurses who are making changes in their lives to improve their health and wellness. You can too! Read their stories for inspiration here.