Meet a Champion of Nursing Diversity: Cara Lunsford

Meet a Champion of Nursing Diversity: Cara Lunsford

Cara Lunsford is the VP of Community at, fostering a community where nurses can find peer support, allies, professional opportunities, resources, and education. She’s also the host of’s NurseDot Podcast and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, highlighting a variety of voices within the nursing industry while also speaking to her personal experiences as an RN and founder of HOLLIBLU, a social networking app exclusively for nurses (acquired by in 2022).

Lunsford is an important nursing leader, and we’re pleased to profile her as part of the Champions of Nursing Diversity Series 2023.

The series highlights healthcare leaders who are prominent figures in their organizations and are making transformational impacts in nursing.


Meet Cara Lunsford, RN, CPHON, VP of Community at

Talk about your role in nursing.

Beginning my career in pediatric oncology, I witnessed firsthand the effects such a stressful job can have on a nurse. I observed my peers experience burnout and abuse on a daily basis. I heard their stories of adversity, trauma, and hope and joy. With my fellow nurses at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), we started the first Supportive Care Committee to ensure nurses had an environment available to help cope with job stress. However, there remained a greater need for resources like this committee at every hospital and nurses throughout healthcare sectors to improve retention and recruiting.

Realizing there was a broader need for a safe and supportive community and the potential technology had to solve this issue, I had the idea to found HOLLIBLU, the first social media network for nurses. The app was designed to provide peer support, professional advice, and connections with other nurses. In 2022, HOLLIBLU was acquired by, where I was brought on as vice president  of community to oversee the app platform. 

To continue amplifying voices within the nursing community, we launched the NurseDot Podcast late last year. I sit down with my nursing peers to discuss their stories, industry trends, and professional growth advice.

How long have you worked in the nursing field?

I have been in nursing for over 15 years, working in the acute setting as a pediatric oncology, home health, and home infusion nurse. Throughout the past five years, I have used my clinical knowledge as a registered nurse (RN) to take on an entrepreneurial role delivering technology solutions to my fellow nurses to help with everyday challenges. Most recently, I have been using my voice and platform in the nursing space to elevate other nurses, fostering a supportive community for nurses of all specialties and settings. 

Why did you become a nurse?

I started my career as a nurse in pediatric oncology back in 2008 at CHLA. Before that, I worked as an American Sign Language interpreter at Cal State Northridge, where I discovered my interest in oncology. For two consecutive semesters, I interpreted the Biology of Cancer class, and as I was listening and interpreting, I became more interested in oncology and the nursing profession in general. Ultimately, I was so intrigued that I was motivated to embark on a career in nursing. From there, I went to Los Angeles County College of Nursing and Allied Health, where I received an Associate of Science degree and became an RN. 

What are the most important attributes of today’s nursing leaders?

Successful nurses and nursing leaders are empathetic, drawing from personal experiences and truly listening to others from different backgrounds. Having navigated the healthcare system as a queer family put me in the patient’s shoes rather than the clinician’s, with which I was very familiar. My wife and I had a child with two HIV+ gay men, and we all continue to co-parent together. To have our son, we had to meet with multiple IVF clinics and experienced professionals who were either unfamiliar with our family situation or had stigmas around HIV and LGBTQIA+ healthcare issues. I understand what it is like to be rejected from care because of the stigma around your sexuality and hurtful preconceived notions. As a queer nurse, it’s important for me to share my experiences with patients and fellow nurses to create a better care environment for everyone and foster the best possible results for all patients, regardless of background.

With this experience as a patient, I can relate to the struggles my patients are going through. Similarly, as a nursing leader, I understand the struggles of my peers. This knowledge allowed me to create an app to best support nurses and care for their needs. To care for patients you do not know, sometimes nurses must put their own mental health and personal life on the back burner, requiring nurses to be extremely caring and understanding. While this means caring for patients of all backgrounds, it also means putting yourself in their shoes.

What does being a nursing leader mean to you, and what are you most proud of?

It’s important to acknowledge that nurse leadership brings a tremendous amount of responsibility. Nurses have faced unprecedented challenges in the past few years, resulting in a staffing crisis. The solutions nurses seek will require that people across healthcare get aligned on the reasons behind this crisis. Nurse leaders are being called to use their voices and platforms to ensure these messages reach the decision-makers within this industry. I had spent most of my career being the squeaky wheel, speaking up even when it was unpopular. I have taken huge personal and professional risks to create a safe space for nurses and bring awareness to their challenges. But with risk came great reward. believed in my mission and vision. In March 2022, they acquired my company, brought our small but mighty team into the family, and are helping us to continue our mission of providing a vibrant community where nurses thrive.

Tell us about your career path and how you ascended to that role.

After years of nursing and founding HOLLIBLU, I was drawn to given its 30+ year legacy. The biggest thing that pushed me to collaborate with the company was its mission, which completely aligned with mine. aims to improve the lives of the most vulnerable members of society and those who care for them. As a nurse, this resonated with me deeply. It is a company I wanted to associate myself with and help build toward this mission by including the app I was so passionate about creating. 

What is the most significant challenge facing nursing today?

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the broader public became abruptly aware of nurses’ important role in the healthcare system and their daily challenges. In this post-pandemic world, with severe nursing shortages putting increased pressure on healthcare staff, nurse burnout, and professional stress are incredibly high, not to mention the grief and trauma that comes from caring for patients.  

As a nursing leader, how are you working to overcome this challenge?

Nurses need resources and support to equip them with the skills to deliver better care. The last few years have proven that nursing is one of our society’s most demanding and crucial jobs, so we must do something about it. It is vital to provide nurses with adequate resources and a supportive community to deal with burnout and improve their mental health. Nurses need accessible and effective training to help them advance in their careers and targeted job postings to help them find the best roles that fit their interests and experience. At, we put nurses’ needs first, providing them with a community of peers, reading materials, continuing education courses, and the ability to take control of their career paths. 

What nursing leader inspires you the most and why?

A few nurse leaders come to mind, but I would start with Rebecca Love. Rebecca has been working to empower and elevate the nurse profession, whether it’s through grassroots initiatives, like founding the non-profit SONSIEL (Society of Nurse Scientists, Innovators, Educators, and Leaders) or giving TedTalks about how nurses can drive healthcare innovation. Most recently, Rebecca has set her sights on a significant issue, the insurance reimbursement of nursing services. The Commission for Nurse Reimbursement explores the history of how the rates of nursing services were once set by the nurses themselves and how changes made over 100 years ago has resulted in nurses now being a cost instead of a benefit to hospitals. I just interviewed her on the NurseDot Podcast, and you can listen to that episode here

What inspirational message would you like to share with the next generation of nurses?

Nursing is a marathon and not a sprint. If you want to work in this profession for decades, it is important to prioritize your personal needs, practice professional boundaries, and know when to say “no” or “not right now.” Remember that you are human first. Practicing awareness will help you identify when it’s time to make a change, so don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone and try something new.

PRIDE Month and Nurse Advocacy

PRIDE Month and Nurse Advocacy

Every June, the nation celebrates PRIDE Month and healthcare organizations can use the time to support and celebrate their LGBTQIA+ employees and patients. Whether you’re an LGBTQIA+ nurse, an ally, or someone who wants to learn more ways to offer support, this month encourages education, community, and celebration.

Anthony Pho, PhD, MPH, ANP-C, is a Propel postdoctoral scholar for The PRIDE Study at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and says nurses have the power to ask their organizations to be a welcoming and inclusive workplace. In doing so, nurses can be their authentic selves at work and patients will feel their health concerns are recognized, accepted, and heard.

Pho, who is also a board member for GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality, says that anyone interested in how an organizations supports the LGBTQIA+ community simply has to run a quick internet search and see what comes up. In that space, a lack of information speaks volumes, so organizations want to make sure they foster an environment that’s inclusive in words and actions.

Luckily, the collaboration and organization that helps advance important initiatives and bring the community together is a specialty of many nurses. “Nurses are all about committees and organizing,” says Pho, laughing. “Whether that’s the next delicious potluck or recognizing service excellence, it’s built into the nursing culture to have a committee for something.” While nurses connect with each other this way, it also creates a powerful group. “It’s one way for nurses to engage with the larger hospital system,” Pho says.

Nurses can join committees for diversity, equity, and inclusion (many organizations also add justice to that list), to learn about and work toward issues impacting many groups and including LGBTQIA+ nurses. “That’s one way hospitals can advocate for and support LGBTQIA+ nurses and patients from an equity point of view,” says Pho. “And making sure LGBTQIA+ and other groups are mentioned from an equity point of view is a first step.”

Organizations that have advocates who publically endorse and advocate for LGBTQIA+ issues and concerns are essential, says Pho. “The public part of that support is really important,” he says. “It’s important that the leadership all the way to the top provides that support.” Ideally, that means employees are able to show public support for LGBTQIA+ issues and therefore, colleagues and patients, and the top leadership of the organization has done the same–preferably through a medium like a video.

“When you see the dean of an institution or the leaders at the top of an institution making a public statement, that’s very powerful,” says Pho. And a visible statement is something that nurses can use to refer back to when they want to advocate for LGBTQIA+ issues. PRIDE Month is a great springboard for that statement.

Nurses may also look into the Healthcare Equality Index (HEI), which is “the national LGBTQ+ benchmarking tool that evaluates healthcare facilities’ policies and practices related to the equity and inclusion of their LGBTQ+ patients, visitors and employees.” The HEI, says Pho, is the teeth behind any kind of health equality program as it offers evidence and evaluation on how organizations can become leaders in many areas.

And when organizations bring folks together for advocacy work, a mindful approach is needed. “It’s important to tap someone interested in health equity and then invite others who are representative of your organization,” says Pho. “That’s the key to amplifying those voices.” He notes that relying on underrepresented employees and making them responsible for DEI initiatives is detrimental as it is not only on their shoulders–it is an organization-wide responsibility and interest.

Nurses can also join organizations such as GLMA which will hold a GLMA Nursing Summit 2022 and has resources and connections in the GLMA Nursing Section.

Support and action are the key to helping promote issues throughout the year, not just during PRIDE Month. “If you want to change the universe,” says Pho, “you have to show up to the table.”