Postcards From the Caregiving Journey

2012 Distinguished Faculty Lecture Available Online

By: Camlynne Waring

Professor of Nursing Karen Tetz

Sharing caregiving experiences from her own life, as well as conclusions from her professional research, Professor Karen Tetz presented "Postcards from the Caregiving Journey" on Sunday, Nov. 11.

The 2012 Distinguished Faculty Lecture is available online at

Every year, the students, faculty, and staff of Walla Walla University nominate faculty members whom they consider to be accomplished scholars and gifted instructors for the Distinguished Faculty Lecture.  A committee considers the nominations and selects a speaker, who will present the following November.  The 2012 Distinguished Faculty Lecturer is Karen Tetz, professor of nursing.

In Tetz’s presentation, “Postcards From the Caregiving Journey,” she discussed her research on what factors help to determine the course of family and elderly caregiving.  Her dissertation was a study that explored the satisfaction of frail elders with the care they received from their family caregiver.   

“One of our most consistent findings was that the quality of the relationship between the caregiver and care receiver is very important,” says Tetz.  “In family caregiving, relationship quality was the most important factor in predicting how care receivers rated the quality of the care they received.” 

In her lecture, Tetz addressed the questions of how to best support caregivers and care receivers, what lessons can be learned from the caregiver and care receiver relationship, and how our societal values shape our treatment of society’s most vulnerable members.

“Most long-term care for frail elders is provided in the home by family caregivers. Giving and receiving care is an interactive process between the frail or ill care receiver needing assistance and the family member giving care. It requires constant give and take, negotiation, and cooperation.”

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Tetz spent her childhood in College Place, while her father studied at WWU, and then in Bellingham, Wash., where her father served as principal at Bellingham Junior Academy.  Tetz’s family served as missionaries in the Philippines for five years before moving back to Canada, where Tetz attended high school at Canadian University College.

In 1977, Tetz graduated from WWU with a degree in nursing, and, in 1983, she received her master’s degree in nursing from Loma Linda University. After nearly three years at Union College, she began teaching for the School of Nursing at Walla Walla University in 1986.

While at WWU, Tetz also worked part-time as a home health nurse for many years.  Many of the families she worked with included frail older adults who were receiving care from a family member, such as a spouse or adult child.

“I found that sometimes things went well, and sometimes they went very poorly,” says Tetz, “and it wasn’t always related to the severity of the patient’s illness.”

It was as a result of this work that Tetz became very interested in what factors helped to determine the course of family caregiving.  In 1998, she began a doctoral program at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in Portland, Ore.  In 2001, she received the John A. Hartford pre-doctoral fellowship that helped to not only fund her doctoral education, but gave her access to leaders in the field of gerontological nursing and family caregiving for frail older adults.

Tetz teaches nursing assessment, nursing of the acutely ill adult, and nursing research courses at WWU’s Portland campus. 

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