2022 Charlotte Brody Award: Dr. Kathy Murphy

Kathy Murphy

Dr. Kathy Murphy, Ed.D, MSN, RN, CHSE

Environmental nursing educator Dr. Kathy Murphy from Naugatuck Valley Community College is honored as the 2022 Charlotte Brody Award recipient. With the mission of building nursing students’ confidence in environmental health, Murphy exemplifies environmental nursing leadership.

Dr. Kathy Murphy was a pediatric nurse at Yale New Haven Hospital when she first began seeing how environmental factors like industrial pollution and extreme weather can impact children’s health and lead to issues like lead poisoning and asthma. “We always talked about triggers, but not the patient’s true environment,” Murphy said. 

As a master’s student, Murphy, along with 10 other students, found themselves in a class led by one of the founders of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE), Mary Jane Williams. Self-described as the “Williams 11,” the students embedded themselves across five congressional districts in Connecticut to teach community members about human health and environmental hazards. Murphy recounts the community education framework: “What's the problem? What are the consequences? And what are the safer solutions?”

Murphy’s experiences reaching vulnerable populations across Connecticut with the Williams 11 inspired her to pursue her doctorate in educational leadership, and her dissertation focused on integrating environmental health into the nursing process. Through this work, she discovered how low new nurse graduates’ confidence was in addressing environmental topics to foster human health. 

Murphy now serves as professor of nursing at Naugatuck Valley Community College and adjunct faculty at both Charter Oak State College and the University of Hartford, where she works directly with nursing students in community colleges, state schools, and private schools to build their competence – and confidence – in environmental health. 

“Environmental health is part of the role of a nurse,” Murphy shares. “And we have the knowledge and skills to lead.”

This hasn’t always been the case. Murphy worked for several years to integrate environmental health into nursing curricula across the three institutions she teaches in and beyond. Now she’s focusing her efforts on climate change. Since 2021, Murphy has shepherded six Connecticut schools of nursing into the Nurses Climate Challenge School of Nursing Commitment – a collaborative effort supported by Health Care Without Harm and ANHE to support nursing schools in integrating climate change into nursing courses. 

“If we place climate change in the curriculum, we have nurses graduating who have the skillset and the confidence to advocate for healthy environments for us all,” Murphy says. 

Unsurprisingly, Murphy also has a legacy in the community. As a mother of girl scouts, she became frustrated about gaps in the scouts’ opportunities for exploration. First, she lobbied Girl Scouts leadership to create a badge for exploration in health care careers – and won. Next, she lobbied for the establishment of an environmental health badge – and won. Both badges were adopted by Connecticut Girl Scouts and made available for girl scouts across the United States. For this, she credits her role as a member of the nation’s most trusted profession: nursing.

When asked where she gets her inspiration, Murphy jests, “It’s like the Emmys; I don’t want to leave anyone’s name out.” From educators like Mary Jane Williams to fellow Charlotte Brody Award winners Barbara Sattler, Brenda Afzal, Katie Huffling, and Ruth McDermott-Levy, to leaders in the field at ANHE and Health Care Without Harm, to leaders at each of her nursing institutions who support the important work Murphy does to bring environmental health to nursing students, the list is long. Like all of history’s movement builders, Murphy looks to the masses.

“This work can’t be done by one person,” she says. “We must reach as many people as possible.”

Murphy currently works in Waterbury, Connecticut the brass city, home of manufacturing. She returned to her hometown in nearby Wolcott, after spending some years in Texas and Massachusetts. She has three grown children who all live and work in the state of Connecticut.

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