Kara M. Cohen, CRNP

Alumni Designation

Nu’08, GNu’13 (Adult Gerontology Primary Care NP program)

Year of the Nurse & Midwife Special Edition Profile!

Penn Nursing alum Kara Cohen and Jefferson Nursing School alum Ursula Hobbs are two of the many professionals who make up the team of nurses at Philadelphia’s Project HOME—and both are making a critical difference in the city as health care providers at the Hub of Hope.

The Hub of Hope, a partnership between Project HOME, the City of Philadelphia, and SEPTA, is a walk-in engagement center located in Suburban Station that offers year-round health services and housing placement to persons experiencing long-term homelessness. “Nursing is very much about treating the whole person,” Kara says. “It’s about managing the intersection of someone’s physical, psychological, and emotional wellness. Project HOME embraces a holistic approach by providing patient-centered services, and the organization realizes that it’s called healthcare for a reason—without a holistic approach, it’s just health services.”

Ursula Hobbs, left, and Kara Cohen, right.

Ursula adds, “That approach allows us meet people where they’re at to help them navigate the healthcare system.” She is a Mobile Nurse Care Manager, providing trauma-informed care not just at the Hub of Hope but at a range of Project HOME entities, including two safe haven housing sites, one permanent supportive housing residence, and the Stephen Klein Wellness Center, a Federally Qualified Health Center.

Kara, too, wears many hats at Project HOME. She is also the Associate Site Director for the organization’s satellite health clinic at Pathways to Housing PA, and she engages in street outreach with its Outreach Coordination Center. “Truly, there is no typical day for me, which I love. At the Pathways clinic, a single provider can see up to 20 participants in a four-hour period, which can be pretty intense and hectic. Sometimes I get to do home visits for people who have previously experienced homelessness but have physical or emotional barriers that prevent them from coming to the office—and I also provide care right on the streets.” She adds, “when we as clinicians meet people where they are, we have the opportunity to establish trust and recalibrate the provider-patient dynamic. We have to be a team with our participants and flip the archaic provider-patient hierarchy on its head.”

“It is very humbling,” Ursula says, “to earn the trust of folks, be accepted into their lives, and share in their successes and heartaches. To do that—especially as mobile nurses—we have to be ready for anything. Unlike hospital or office-based nursing, I don’t have easy access to supplies, even as I’ve compensated by carrying lots of supplies with me in my backpack. Although I’m often solo in the field, I can collaborate with my team to troubleshoot and resolve difficult situations, but I also have to get creative on my own sometimes. I love the challenge of this work.”

Neither Kara nor Ursula knew nursing was in their futures as kids, but both come from health provider families: Kara’s father was a physician, and Ursula’s mother was a nurse. Kara says, “I thought becoming a doctor might be cool for a brief second when I was in the first grade, but I wanted to be anything else—a fashion designer, an anthropologist, a teacher. As it turns out, nursing is my second career. My first degrees are in Spanish and Anthropology, and I did a year of Americorps before moving to Boston and doing street outreach and case management. It was only after my roommate at the time—a nurse—encouraged me to consider nursing and I worked alongside some amazing clinicians with Boston Health Care for the Homeless that it clicked for me.”

For Ursula, it was a hospital stay for her father that put the idea of nursing as a career into her head. “I love to be outdoors and had always planned to pursue a degree in biology or forestry, but my father was hospitalized emergently with a ruptured appendix and almost died. The nurses let me help clean his abdominal retention sutures, and I was fascinated by the thought of doing surgery. I initially thought about becoming a physician because at the time there weren’t that many women physicians—but my mom encouraged me toward nursing because she would say, ‘You’re always protesting for a cause, you’re always helping somebody.’ She thought nursing would be a good fit for someone trying to solve the world’s problems!”

It is that mission focus that drew both of them to Project HOME. Kara says, “Every day I go to work I know that I’m employed by an organization that genuinely cares about addressing all the factors contributing to homelessness, including the lack of access to health care.”

When we as clinicians meet people where they are, we have the opportunity to establish trust and recalibrate the provider-patient dynamic. We have to be a team with our participants and flip the archaic provider-patient hierarchy on its head.