Healthy World, Healthy Nation, Healthy You

Nursing Leadership in Action: Establishing a Community for Cancer Patients in Philadelphia, PA

Connie Carino, PhD, RN, FAAN University of Penn School of Nursing Emerita Faculty. Founder, Wellness Community of Philadelphia


image002Nurse Carino was already a leader in nursing when her sister was diagnosed with cancer. As she was supporting her sister, Connie subsequently learned that she had cancer as well. This started her personal journey to learn about treatment and treatment alternatives which eventually led her to learn about the benefits of being surrounded by a community as part of the healing process. She then journeyed on to establish and become the CEO of the first cancer community in Philadelphia, PA. She shares her remarkable story.

Dr. Carino has a broad range of experience including higher education, hospital administration, non-profit executive and founder, and consultant.  She is a psychiatric nurse by training, specializing in the emotional and psychological responses of patients with serious medical illnesses. She has taught and developed courses in psychiatric nursing at the University of Hawaii, Catholic University where she also served as Associate Director of the Graduate Programs, and the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) and as chairperson of the department of psychiatric nursing in the School of Nursing at the UPenn. She is now a member of the emeritus faculty.

Dr. Carino was also the Clinical Director of Psychiatric Nursing and interim Clinical Director of Medical Nursing at The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP).  She was responsible for the nursing care of patients in 400 beds. She established a psychiatric nursing consultation liaison service that provided psychological care to patients and families at HUP. She held a joint appointment in nursing and medicine at the U of Penn and also co-founded the Ethics Committee at HUP, with a nurse and two physician colleagues.

After working with cancer patients for many years, she became interested in the work of The Wellness Community (now called the Cancer Support Community).  She formed a non-profit board,  founded the Philadelphia chapter, and served as Executive Director. This organization has served thousands of cancer patients in Philadelphia and has its home in a historic home in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. In her capacity as professor and clinician, she has consulted with the US Air Force Behavioral Health Division, San Antonio; Queens Hospital, Honolulu, Hawaii; First Central Hospital, Tienjin, China and the University of Padua, School of Medicine, Italy.

She has received several honors including The Philadelphia Gimbel Award – 1996 Woman of the Year; Outstanding Alumna – The Catholic University of America, 1987 and Skidmore College, 1999, Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, 1991,1997 honorary Doctor of Humanities from the Allegheny University of the Health Sciences.


This show will address the following issues, challenges, stories, solutions

  • Personal and Professional Forces leading to the need for a new community
  • History: Influences of Nursing, Ethics and Psychiatry
  • Personal Cancer Journey
  • View from the Mountaintop
  • Philosophy and Purpose and Outcomes of programs that were developed

3 Key Points:

  • Wellness communities decrease isolation during chronic, long term illness.
  • People tell stories in order to get support, suggestions, and healing energy.
  • Wellness communities help people climb the mountain using their unique skills and abilities to cope with illness.

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