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U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

September Fellow of the Month

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Dr. Teresa Combs

August 2019 Fellow of the Month Profile Photo
Dr. Teresa Combs is a family psychiatric nurse practitioner with more than 20 years’ experience in the field. She earned a Ph.D. from the Catholic University of America, and a post-master’s certification as a psychiatric nurse practitioner from the University of Maryland. She is an alumnus of the American Nurses Association’s Minority Fellowship Program (MFP) and continues to be actively engaged in the alumni group.

Since she was young, Dr. Teresa Combs has recognized that she is a different learner, interpreting the world around her in a different way than her peers. She recounts stories of testing into high-level classes in high school and facing questions from teachers when she found solutions her own way, rather than the way she was taught. This was when she realized that she was not seeing things the way others were seeing them. She explained, “[I] Always had the feeling that I don’t see what others see, I see something different in my head, but the answers were always the same. That should be respected.”

Not only did she have a different perspective of complex issues in the classroom, but in her practice as well. This has been illustrated numerous times over the years, especially through her work with AIDS patients in the late 80s, a time when the country was struck by the fear of the unknown. When other nurses refused to treat these patients, Dr. Combs stepped up to the plate and developed an AIDS unit with a few other nurses. This passion for taking on immense challenges continued when she became a professor where she was known as the “unusual professor” thanks to her lack of PowerPoint slides and affinity for Socratic dialogue. While some people have had qualms about her unique take, Dr. Combs emphasizes that it is important to respect different perspectives, and she deeply values diversity of thought.

Dr. Combs’ passion for the nonconventional route eventually culminated into the passion project that is now known as Living and Growing, a therapeutic center in Silver Spring, Maryland, that offers a variety of therapies and programs for individuals and families. Living and Growing takes a programmatic approach to mental health care, and offers everything from conventional therapies, such as talk therapy, to lesser-known therapies, such as bibliotherapy. All these services are incorporated into the client’s experience, underscoring Dr. Combs belief that, “There is more than one way to move through and overcome whatever the client is going through.”

The center is new—in fact, its 1-year anniversary is coming up this month—but the work that is being done there will quickly earn it a powerful reputation in the community. The clinicians that work there come from all walks of life and were eager to share their background and a little bit about the unique work they do. Their passion is palpable. Dr. Combs certainly has a strong team on her hands, and they are all ready to help heal their community through their own creative means.

Dr. Combs has had a long history of helping others and has no plans to stop anytime soon. She acknowledges her journey as making her current success possible. Beginning in physical health and progressing through various forms of nursing and mental health has led her to a place that was once only a far-off dream. She is now able to help inspire others to take on a different perspective and is changing lives in the process. When asked what advice she had to offer for current MFP fellows, Dr. Combs said she encourages them to “take every opportunity to do everything, no matter how off track it may seem to be.” Wise words from an accomplished alumnus who has never been afraid to walk to the beat of her own drum.

Dr. Combs credits the MFP for expanding her view of research and providing her with the opportunities to continuously learn from others. She remarked that while it was intense and exhausting at times, the knowledge and connections she made were invaluable. Dr. Combs also pointed out that the American Nurses Association is very committed to their MFP fellows, and she continues to be involved as an alum and will continue to find ways to remain active. While she wasn’t sure what she wanted out of her career initially, the MFP allowed her to clarify that path and continues to support her endeavors to this day.

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