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Her research changed the lives of families in poverty

When Harriet Kitzman graduated from high school at the age of 16 in the 1950s, women had a choice of three careers: secretary, teacher or nurse.

Kitzman chose nursing because of her interests in humanitarianism.

“It was a wonderful choice,” said Kitzman, senior associate dean for research at the University of Rochester School of Nursing. “The education and training in the professional discipline of nursing spoke directly to my interests and sensitivities.”

Those who know Kitzman speak of her soft-spoken humility, as well as her uncompromising ethics, hardworking attitude and energy.

“Always willing to share her time and intellect with others, the number of current and former nursing students, faculty, researchers, and clinicians—within the School of Nursing and across the Medical Center—who name Harriet as a mentor, inspiration and role model is impossible to count,” wrote Kathy Rideout, dean of the UR School of Nursing, and Patricia Anne Witzel, associate vice president, University of Rochester Medical Center and chief nursing officer at Strong Hospital.

Kitzman began her career more than 56 years ago as a pediatric nurse. Seeing firsthand the health disparities faced by young socioeconomically disadvantaged mothers and children, She would go on to dedicate much of her career to improving the situation.

For more than two decades, Kitzman has studied whether nurse-home visitations early in the lives of moms and babies could help to break the cycle of poverty for these families and keep them on a healthier path. Her research has shown that nurse visits do lead to healthier pregnancies, improve the health and development of children and help at-risk families improve their self-sufficiency.

A published author of hundreds of articles and numerous book chapters, as well as a leader in state and national research projects, Kitzman has spoken about the impact nurses bring to research.

“Because nurses see patients in their environments, across nearly every setting, we are inclined to study and understand the many complex variables of human behavior and are constantly thinking about how treatments resonate within patients’ personal lives,” Kitzman has said. 

Her most recently co-authored study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, showed that home visitations by nurses also improve the survival rates of at-risk mothers and their first-born children.  

Kitzman’s work in the development, design and testing of the nurse-home visitation program became the basis for the creation of the federally funded Nurse Family Partnership, which is now an international model serving 23,000 families a year nationwide and thousands more families around the world.

In addition to her work at the nursing school, she directs the Center for Research Implementation and Translation, which is part of URMC’s Clinical Translational Science Institute. It is a national model for how a school of nursing can have a leadership role in a clinical and translational science award program.

She enjoys the complexities of her job.

“What I like is the opportunity to see each patient, research, administrative, teaching and policy challenge through a broad lens while digging deeply into the individual situation in order to find an explanation,” Kitzman said. “I get tremendous satisfaction from answering complex questions in research and in seeing the next generation of clinicians and scientists excel.”

Last May, Kitzman was presented with the Charles Force Hutchison and Marjorie Hutchison Medal, UR’s highest recognition of personal achievement.

3/20/15 (c) 2015 RBJ Health Care Achievement Awards. Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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