Weeks before she graduates with a master’s degree from the University of Colorado College of Nursing on December 17, Caitlin Hinz, BSN-RN, started participating in a fellowship that will prepare her for the next phase of her career. Hinz recently was awarded a Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP) fellowship by the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence.
Funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, GWEP is a statewide interdisciplinary and community-focused program that provides geriatric skills training to a wide range of Colorado healthcare professionals and students. Intended to create more clinical opportunities for those who are interested in working with older adults, the program provides eight participating fellows (including Hinz) with $10,000 in financial support.
Hinz’s first 6.5-hour GWEP session kicked off on December 3 and will be followed by a series of webinars and other activities over the next six months. GWEP also offers a coaching component where a social worker supports fellows as they work toward their career goals.
“I’m excited about collaborating with the professionals in the program from other disciplines who are also committed to serving older adults,” Hinz says. “It’s going to be a good opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other.”
From Art History to AGNP-PC
Born in Wyoming, Hinz spent much of her childhood in Iowa. Though she earned a bachelor’s degree in art history from New York’s Skidmore College in 2006, she became disenchanted with the art world and decided to return to school. She enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing in 2013 in an accelerated second-degree program to work on her BSN-RN degree.
“I chose nursing because it seemed to be an interesting intersection of social justice, public health and medicine,” Hinz says.
Hinz’s grandmother, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, was another inspiration for her nursing career.
“I was very close to my grandmother” she says. “I helped care for her as she got older and navigated life with Parkinson’s. That allowed me to see the unique joys and challenges of aging, as well as what it’s like to interact with the healthcare system with a challenging diagnosis. If I hadn’t had such a close relationship with her, I wouldn’t have that inside knowledge and compassion for older adults.”
“I chose nursing because it seemed to be an interesting intersection of social justice, public health, and medicine.” – CU Nursing MS student Caitlin Hinz, BSN-RN
Why she chose CU Nursing
Following her passion for caring for older adults, Hinz considered other schools and colleges in pursuit of her master’s degree specializing in Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner – Primary Care (AGNP-PC), but ultimately decided to enroll in CU College of Nursing. She credits CU Nursing Specialty Director of the Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Program Kim Paxton, DNP, APRN, with influencing her decision.
“Dr. Paxton was warm, supportive, authentic and whip-smart,” she says. “I wanted to be in a place where I felt aligned with the leadership that’s determining the culture, and I got a sense of that from her.”
After initially enrolling in 2018, Hinz took two years off from the college to deal with a death in the family, but she was able to onboard again later. She managed the transition seamlessly, thanks to support from her cohort and the CU Nursing faculty.
“It was the kind of support that I sensed I would get when I had that initial conversation with Dr. Paxton,” she says. “The quality of the education in this program is phenomenal and I’ve made lifelong relationships with peers and faculty members along the way.”
Paxton also tipped Hinz off on the GWEP opportunity and encouraged her to apply for the fellowship.
Finding a home in home healthcare
Having worked in hospitals and clinics throughout Iowa early in her nursing career, Hinz found that the home-health setting best suited her. Since 2019, she’s worked as a home healthcare nurse providing nursing care with a specialization in wound management.
“Going into people’s homes affords a unique perspective of seeing the patient in their environment,” she says. “I get to know my patients well, and having a sense of their family and home setting helps me to provide better care. I get to partner with people and help them become more informed and empowered in navigating their own unique journey through health and illness. I think that’s how healthcare should be, and I will bring this perspective into my new role as a nurse practitioner”
As part of the GWEP fellowship and $10,000 grant, Hinz signed a contract committing to working with geriatric population for the long-term. She enjoys working with older adults, despite whatever functions they lose due to aging and illness.
“In working with older adults, we have the responsibility to confront our biases about what it means to age. Many older people have an amazing quality of life,” she says. “Despite age-related changes to their bodies, they can be happy and satisfied with their lives – maybe even more so – than when they were younger. I want to support older adults thrive in this way.”
With the commencement at CU Nursing pending, and her fellowship ongoing, Hinz plans to earn her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) from CU Nursing, but first she’s going to take a year off from college to apply what she’s learned as a primary care provider.
Just as she’s committed to serving older adults, Hinz says she’s also committed to Colorado.
“The sunshine and mountains lured me in,” she says. “I love to go on hikes with my dog and identify plants and birds. I bought a house and cultivated a huge flower garden, so I’m here to stay.”