My blog posts and other writings are my  personal reflections on health care and social justice from my perspective as a nurse practitioner. Here is a brief digital storytelling video, “My Story of Community Health Nursing,” describing what drew me to–and what keeps me motivated to continue doing–my work as a nurse.

Who I am in third person:Josephine_Ensign_7_8_10small

Josephine Ensign was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1960. She received her BA (Biology and Religion) from Oberlin College in 1981, her masters in primary care nursing from the Medical College of Virginia in 1986, and her doctorate in public health from the Johns Hopkins University in 1996. She has done postgraduate work in medical ethics at Harvard University and in narrative medicine at Columbia University. Currently she is Associate Professor of Community Health at the University of Washington (UW) School of Nursing in Seattle, Washington where she teaches health policy and narrative medicine. She is also Adjunct Associate Professor, UW School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies; and  Affiliate Faculty, UW Simpson Center for the Humanities Certificate Program in Public Scholarship. 

Ensign has worked as a family nurse practitioner for the past three decades, providing primary health care to homeless adolescents and adults in large urban areas on both coasts of the U.S. Through a Fulbright Fellowship, she expanded her research and advocacy internationally with work in Thailand and Venezuela–and most recently in New Zealand. The focus of her career has been to increase an understanding of the lives of marginalized populations, and to develop ways to increase their access to effective health care programs.

As a university faculty member she has published numerous journal articles and book chapters on homelessness, health and human rights. Her literary non-fiction essays have appeared  in the The Sun, Oberlin Alumni Magazine,  Silk Road, University of Iowa’s Examined Life, and Johns Hopkins Public Health Magazine,  Pulse :Voices from the Heart of Medicine magazine and Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine. She received the Zola Prize in the 2010 Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association Literary Contest for an essay entitled “Gone South,” published in Silk Road (Winter/Spring, 2011). An excerpt/reprint of “Gone South” was published in the University of Iowa‘s The Daily Palette. An essay “Next of Kin” is included in Creative Nonfiction’s anthology I Wasn’t Strong Like This When I Started Out: True Stories of Becoming a Nurse (Lee Gutkind editor; In Fact Press, 2013). She received a Hedgebrook writing residency in 2014.

Ensign’s medical memoir, Catching Homelessness: A Nurse’s Story of Falling Through the Safety Net, will be published by She Writes Press in August 2016. It has been named as the UW Health Sciences Common Book for academic year 2016/17. She is currently at work on two additional book/public scholarship projects, Soul Stories: Voices from the Margins and Skid Road: The Intersection of Health and Homelessness. 

Who I am in first person (artist statement):

Through my writing and photography I engage in critiques of current social justice issues such as poverty and homelessness, trauma and resilience, and the wellbeing of marginalized populations. As a nurse and academic with the lived experience of homelessness, my writing and photography are ways to explore possible answers to complex ethical and existential questions. My aim is to humanize health care, to cultivate empathy leading to action.

I begin a project with a question currently plaguing me, such as “what are the limits of compassion?” I then begin collecting artifacts—found objects, photographs, sound recordings—and I listen for the whispers of stories they tell, for the partial answers they may provide. I engage with the growing collection of artifacts as a tinkerer. I play and experiment with the collection by writing an essay, taking more photographs, listening for more questions, digging through the layers of meaning. I am drawn to the margins, the liminal spaces, the shadowed and silent spaces of individuals, groups, and communities. I seek to document, as Katherine Boo says, “That small stories in so called hidden places matter.”

For the past decade my work has centered on using personal stories to highlight important public policy issues within an emancipatory framework. My writing has moved from traditional narrative nonfiction essays, to include more open form essays, as well as poetry. My current project, Soul Stories, is a collection of essays, poems, photographs, digital storytelling short videos, oral histories, and sound recordings of the stories of health and healing within the context of homelessness. Extending my cross-disciplinary approaches in new yet complementary directions, I am creating mixed-media collage and bricolage artwork using my photographs, bits of writings, and various found objects.

Here are some examples of my mixed-media collage/bricolage:


‘Way Out’ acrylic, thread, black bamboo, and silk cocoons. Part of series “Way Out; Way Home” Josephine Ensign/ 2015


Portion of a larger piece titled “Degree of Latitude.” Photo transfers, acrylic gel media, sea glass, and silk cocoons. Josephine Ensign/2015


Note on my personal  blogging ethical code: I blog as if my late mother were reading every word I write. If you knew my mother, you would understand that this is a much higher ethical code than any existing blogger’s code of ethics (cyberjournalist.net has a good one).

  • University Big Brother and Big Sister would like me to state the following: “This is a personal website, produced in my own time, on my own computer, and solely reflecting my personal opinions. Statements on this site do not represent any past, current or future employer, or any other organization with which I may be affiliated. All content is copyrighted.”
  • You can contact me either by leaving a comment (it links to my personal e-mail and I will respond).

3 responses to “About

  1. Hello Josephine!
    I took your homeless youth class several years ago while I was in nursing school. I am starting the Community Health Nursing program at UW this fall. I stumbled upon your blog through someone who posted it on Facebook. I can’t wait to read more. I have always admired and respected what you do.

    Julie Myers


  2. Hello!

    My name is Sam and I work with Jacksonville University’s School of Nursing. Because of the quality information you are providing to the online world about nursing, we would like to award your blog one of the “20 Best Blogs for Nurses.” To mark this achievement, I am including code information with this email. When the code is added to your blog, a badge will be produced which announces that Jacksonville University considers your blog one of the 20 Best Blogs for Nurses. You can see what the badge looks like here: http://schoolofnursingonline.wordpress.com/ on the right hand side toward the bottom.

    I wish to congratulate you on your success, and am happy to offer you help in successfully publishing this badge to your site. In the right hand column, you will be able to add this code and on every page your visitors come to, they will see that you have been recognized as a top blog in the niche of nursing.

    CODE for Your Award Badge:
    RN to BSN

    Please email or call me if you have any questions. Keep up the great work, and I look forward to reading future posts on your blog.

    Thanks so much!


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