Nursing Professor Guided By W.C. Fields

News Story: August 1, 2011
Nursing Professor Harriet Fields, Ed.D, R.N.

Harriet Fields, Ed.D, R.N., who joined the faculty of Sacred Heart University in January, has been influenced throughout her life and career by her relationship to her paternal grandfather, W.C. Fields. Although her grandfather passed away before she was born, the clinical associate professor in SHU’s Department of Nursing has always used W.C. Fields as her spiritual inspiration.

Dr. Fields, who is the second full-time online faculty member for SHU’s Department of Nursing, is based in Washington, D.C., where she continues her work as an advocate for health care reform. “Now more than ever, we need the profession of nursing and professional nurses to advocate and articulate direction in health care reform,” she said. “Similarly, W.C. was passionate about helping people.  He was true to his art and fought for the underdog. He said things that others were afraid to say.”

It was W.C.’s healing gift of laughter that steered Dr. Fields toward nursing. “Laughter truly is the best medicine. Whether you are ill or are dealing with grief, job loss or divorce, there are no circumstances where you can’t find solace in the art of W.C. Fields,” she said.

Before coming to SHU, Dr. Fields served as interim director of a RN-BSN-MSN program at a university in Washington, D.C. While there, she developed and implemented the course on policy and politics for nursing students on Capitol Hill.  She also developed the course called “The Arts and Healing,” stating that humor is the best medicine and healer of all and she looks forward to teaching The Human Journey in Nursing based on SHU’s Core Curriculum.  Dr. Fields has served as an advocate with the National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform (NCCNHR) and helped develop the Nursing Home Reform Act and Regulations. She worked with Congress and designated committees, and the then-named Health Care Financing Administration (now the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services), serving as an expert consultant and on best practices committees.

Through her work, Dr. Fields follows in the footsteps of her mentor, W.C. “He studied the human condition and then served it back to us as his art. He is quoted saying, ‘if I can make them laugh and through that laughter make this old world seem a little brighter, then I am satisfied.’ I believe that was an act of love he shared with the world,” she said. “I hope that I am also sharing love with the world through the work that I do.” 

Dr. Fields is already working on making a difference for her SHU students. Teaching health care policy, Dr. Fields empowers students to become advocates for their clients in humane health care delivery.  She is planning with SHU, the American Nurses Association, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and the Congressional Nursing Caucus a Health Policy Institute to bring professional nurses to Washington, DC for an Intensive on how to give input on health care reform in the U.S. Congress.  Previously as a nurse educator in Washington, D.C., she provided leadership experiences for the students with key agencies and policy makers in the federal government. Some examples are leadership experiences for nursing students with the Surgeon General, the Assistant Surgeon General and Rear Admiral Dr. Carol Romano (Ph.D., RN), participation on the Surgeon General’s Task Force on Childhood Obesity at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and a research experience at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Dr. Fields at the opening of the W.C. Fields Festival at the Film Forum in NYC on April 22, 2011. Photo by Steve Friedman

Away from the classroom, Dr. Fields spends a great deal of time working with her brothers to ensure that W.C. Fields’ legacy lives on. She and her siblings inherited all of their grandfather’s artifacts and memorabilia. After a great deal of research, they placed their collection in the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The artifacts have been catalogued and archived and are accessible to the world, she said.

They also continually update the Web site that honors their grandfather – “W.C. also said, ‘always keep with your family.’ I believe he was really happy with the family he had just before he died, and his growing grandchildren, and I think he would be proud of the work my brothers and I are doing to ensure his contributions to the world are not forgotten and known for generations to come, including embracing the SHU community.”