Kaye Herth has spent much of her professional career studying the effects of hope on individuals with chronic or terminal illnesses.

A cheerful and positive person herself, Herth said the idea that a sense of hope could impact a person’s physical well-being began to develop during her early clinical career.

 But it was during her academic career — and specifically when she presented her doctoral dissertation on the therapeutic use of humor before her committee at Texas Woman’s University — that she encountered criticism.

Positive thought, she remembers committee members telling her, is not “hard science.”

Well, Herth has proven otherwise.

“Now, it’s a wide, open field,” said Herth, former dean of Minnesota State University’s College of Allied Health and Nursing. “People are beginning to recognize how significant this is.”

During her career, Herth wrote a book — “Hope and Hopelessness” — and contributed chapters about hope, humor and grief to eight nursing textbooks.

The retired dean, who also held leadership positions at Georgia Southern University, Northern Illinois University and Clemson University, has had more than 60 publications in professional journals. Her work has been translated into 19 languages and has changed the perceptions of hope, humor and laughter in the health care industry.

And for that work, she has been inducted into the Sigma Theta Tau International’s Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame. Herth is among the hall of fame’s second class of inductees, which awards those whose research has had “global or national impact on the profession and the people it serves.”

Sigma Theta Tau, which is the honor society of nursing, will formally induct Herth with 14 fellow researchers during a July 14 ceremony and panel discussion in Cancun, Mexico.

“I’m so humbled,” said Herth from her home in Gainesville, Ga. “I just can’t believe it.”

Much of Herth’s research into hope focused on how to measure it, improve it and promote it from a leadership perspective. She created the Herth Hope Index to measure a patient’s level of hope, and she still receives several emails a week from academics and professionals asking permission to utilize that tool.

Herth’s hope measurements have not only led to changes in the way patients with chronic or terminal illnesses are treated, but have also impacted the treatment of homeless individuals and prison inmates to name a few.

Herth said hers is not the only tool used to measure hope, “but for some reason, mine has taken off.

“Sometimes I feel like I should pinch myself.”

Herth characterized hope as a trait that can be learned and strengthened, especially through bonds with others. She said hope is different than wishing — “Hope is active,” she noted — and said some patients are more skilled than others initially.

“Hope is learned from others. When you make that connection with someone, you can move mountains.”

Herth served as MSU’s dean of nursing from 1998 to 2009. She led the college’s expansion into doctoral programs and spearheaded a multi-year effort to obtain legislative approval for doctor of nursing practice degrees. In 2009, the college was the first in the Minnesota State Colleges & Universities system to confer such degrees.

Herth also oversaw the planning for the $7 million gift from Glen and Becky Taylor to the program in 2008 that created an endowed faculty position as well as the Glen Taylor Nursing Institute for Family and Society and the Becky Taylor Doctoral Fellowships in Nursing.

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