Faculty Spotlight: Caroline Coburn
March 30, 2020
March is recognized across the United States as American Red Cross Month. To celebrate the organization’s mission of preventing and alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors, we spoke with Emory School of Nursing Assistant Clinical Professor Caroline Coburn. She shared how the nursing profession has evolved, what impact the Red Cross has had on her career and what kept her motivated to continue to lead future nurses.
After graduating from Duke University with her BSN, Coburn continued to Georgia State University to complete her MS in Nursing, an Adult Nurse Practitioner post-masters from Emory University, and a DNP from University of Alabama, Birmingham. During her time earning a MS degree in nursing, she worked as a clinical instructor for what was then the Grady Hospital Diploma School of Nursing.
While raising her two sons, Coburn paused her work and study of nursing but stayed active in the medical community by freelance writing educational materials and working on a Red Cross/WSB-TV collaboration focused on community Health Fairs. Eventually, she worked both as a local coordinator for HIV education and within the Disaster Services unit of the Red Cross. She continued her work with the Red Cross during the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, helping to support the local volunteers who were going to and returning from New York as well as organizing Disaster Training courses in Georgia.
“This experience gave me a true appreciation for the depth of knowledge and talent in the Red Cross organization when it comes to dealing with disasters, and the challenges they face,” said Coburn. “We had daily updates on the situation in New York, and the enormity of the losses and pain, both physical and psychological, was staggering. Meanwhile, they were addressing extremely complicated logistics and constantly having to be aware of public sensitivities about their work.”
At the Red Cross, focusing on the individual in a crisis is the main priority, with support offered to volunteers and the people directly affected. Following leaders such as Marilyn Self, RN, the Director of Disaster Services in Metro Atlanta at the time of 9/11, Coburn began to have a greater appreciation for the scope of work and the many ways the Red Cross was able to positively touch lives. Coburn stepped into Self’s roll when Self was called to New York to aid in the crisis.
“I learned how to quickly change delivery of help if circumstances require it, and—even more important—to determine if things need to be changed,” Coburn explained of her time learning in the Red Cross. “Basically, the lessons were to be patient, observant, and use critical thinking assessment—all good nursing skills!”
Returning to her original field of cardiology at Emory Healthcare, Coburn soon found that education was a stronger passion and began at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing as a clinical instructor. As her professional interests shifted from acute care to focus on Ambulatory Care nursing and interprofessional education, Coburn moved into her current position as Assistant Clinical Professor. She now hopes to contribute to a new generation of nurses who are insightful, caring, analytical and proud of their work.
“My Red Cross work also provided valuable experience in working with communities and other organizations to deliver health education and screening, which formed a framework for my future work in those areas,” said Coburn. Currently working on a national taskforce to develop guidelines for academic-clinical collaboration in ambulatory care, and as lead editor for a textbook on Ambulatory Care Nursing, Coburn’s passion about this vital field is clear in her continued work.
“My colleagues at Emory School of Nursing are extraordinary. They constantly set a high bar of excellence, and it’s both a challenge and a pleasure to try and keep up,” said Coburn. Emory School of Nursing continues to improve as faculty members, like Coburn, draw from their field experience to help educate and guide a new fleet of nurses.