Caitlin M. Abascál Hildebrand, NP
Caitlin Hildebrand is right where she planned: building a career at the Veterans Administration (VA). “My family is full of people in public service,” she says, “from lawyers to teachers to firefighters. I always knew I wanted to help the underserved, and to especially focus on those with complex mental and physical health needs. The VA, where my patients have also given so much themselves, is the place I always wanted to be.”
As the Acting Nurse Manager for Integrative Health at the San Francisco Veterans Health Administration (SFVHA), Caitlin leads a variety projects for nursing service as well as provides advanced nursing and medical care, both in-person in the Medical Practice and via video Telehealth. She is also founding provider of the new Integrative Health and Wellness Clinic at the SFVHA, a critical option to military veterans for whole health.
“In 2016 the VA sent me and a group of colleagues for training with the Center for Mind Body Medicine,” Caitlin recalls. “The goal was to learn skills to teach other staff—and potentially veterans—that would help promote engagement and well-being, and prevent burn-out. Once I began that training, I got exposure to the science behind Complementary and Integrative Health interventions. That, combined with my training as a yoga teacher, made me realize that I wanted to practice Integrative Medicine, and that it is the future of holistic health care that actually promotes wellness and well-being.”
“The VA is leading the world in Integrative Medicine,” she continues, “and I am thrilled to be in the center of that in San Francisco. In addition to the group medical visits I lead in Yoga, Mind Body Medicine, and Battlefield Accupuncture, I am also part of a holistic team at the Integrative Health and Wellness Clinic. Veterans who are referred in receive a co-visit with the psychologist and either me or my physician chief—both of us are Fellows in Integrative Medicine through the University of Arizona—followed by a physical therapist and registered dietician. There is no better way to be evaluated in terms of true Whole Health.”
Caitlin, who is also an Assistant Clinical Professor at University of California San Francisco, spent a period in 2018 and 2019 as Acting Chief of Advanced Practice Nursing at the SFVHA during the roll-out of Full Practice Authority at the VA. “It was particularly exciting to be in that position as Full Practice Authority was approved and implemented,” she says. “It required difficult conversations sometimes with Medical Service Chiefs, but by stressing that we all benefit from being able to practice our full education and training, and reaching out when we reach our own limits, I was able to overcome people’s concerns.”
Caitlin’s full education and training go beyond her BSN and MSN from Penn Nursing; she also earned a MSHAIL (Master of Science Health Administration and Inter-professional Leadership) from University of California San Francisco and a B.A. in Psychology from Swarthmore College. She credits her MSHAIL degree, the VA Leadership Development Institute training, and her Lean certifications for teaching her “how crucial it is to reflect on your own learning needs and weaknesses, develop teamwork and buy-in, and approach all conflicts with a humility and growth mindset.” Her MSHAIL degree, in particular, has been critical for her career development, allowing her to bypass the “major glass ceiling for NPs” and step directly into the role of Director of Patient Care for a home health and hospice. She also notes that her experiences at Penn Nursing were “truly formative,” particularly the exposure she got through her clinical placements and summer internships.
Caitlin’s education, training, and experience have led her to the place she hoped—and she plans to stay. “I am hoping to do more and more in our Integrative Health Service at the VA in the next few years,” she says. “Right now I am a clinician, and I also hope to become a formal leader as well.”
Random fact: Caitlin has visited 19 countries to date. “I cherish the experience I had in Botswana with Penn Nursing,” she says, “and I have returned to Africa three times since. I have now been to South Africa, Ghana, and Nigeria as well, and I’m planning a trip to Namibia.”