Betty Bekemeier, UW assistant professor of nursing, has won a competitive grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to study how research partnerships between public health leaders in government, academia and the non-profit sector can answer practice-based questions that affect public health policies.
Bekemeier is one of 12 nurse educators from around the country to receive the three-year, $350,000 Nurse Faculty Scholar award this year. It is given to faculty early in their careers who show outstanding promise as future leaders in academic nursing. The grant period began this month.
“”I am deeply honored to receive this prestigious and meaningful award,” Bekemeier said. “The support I receive will give me the time and mentoring that I need to study how public health professionals in a variety of settings can work together to get evidence into the hands of policy-makers before—rather than after—they make key public health decisions.”
Bekemeier, who worked in public health practice for several county health departments in Washington, noted that federal, state and local public health leaders often come under intense pressure to make quick decisions about health policy. This is especially true during periods of economic decline. “My former colleagues, with whom I feel a deep connection and kinship, are faced with difficult decisions that have significant consequences for vulnerable populations who rely heavily on publicly funded health programs. Yet they have very little evidence that tells them how to cut budgets and services that create the least possible harm while still improving health for their communities.” Bekemeier is concerned that practitioners and policy-makers often lack the time, capacity and resources to fully evaluate and monitor the effects of their decisions on society’s most vulnerable people.
Bekemeier’s research will advance the efforts of newly formed research partnerships among public health professionals—called public health practice-based research networks—and will provide evidence for decision-making about public health policies.
“There is very little information that public health officials can turn to when they are called on to make tough decisions about public health practice and policies,” Bekemeier added. “My research will determine whether public health practice-based research networks are able to provide decision-makers with timely evidence about public health practices and whether that information leads to policies that are more beneficial for the most vulnerable in society.”
Pamela Mitchell, professor of biobehavioral nursing an health systems in the UW School of Nursing and director of the UW Center for Health Sciences Interprofessional Education and Research, and David Grembowski, professor of health services in the UW School of Public Health, will serve as Bekemeier’s mentors.
“A wide disconnect has historically existed between research and practice and has inhibited the translation of scientific discovery into relevant and meaningful opportunities for improving people’s health,” Mitchell said. “Dr. Bekemeier’s research will help bridge the wide research gap between academia and public health services.”
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars program aims to strengthen the academic productivity and overall excellence of nursing schools by developing the next generation of national leaders in academic nursing. Supporting nurse faculty early in their careers will help curb a nurse educator shortage that could undermine the health and health care of all Americans.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will vastly increase the number of people who can obtain health care in the United States. As the number of patients increases, there will be greater demand for skilled nurses and faculty to educate them. Right now, many schools of nursing are turning away qualified applicants because they lack enough faculty members to teach them.
The Nurse Faculty Scholars program is helping to curb the shortage by helping more nurses succeed in, and commit to, academic careers. The program provides talented faculty with salary and research support as well as the chance to participate in institutional and national mentoring activities, leadership training, and networking events with colleagues in nursing and other fields, while continuing to teach and provide institutional, professional and community service in their universities.
The program will also enhance the stature of the scholars’ academic institutions, which will benefit fellow nurse educators seeking professional development opportunities.
To receive the award, scholars must be registered nurses who have completed a research doctorate in nursing or a related discipline and who have held a tenure-eligible faculty position at an accredited nursing school for at least two and no more than five years.
Several Nurse Faculty Scholars have been recognized for outstanding work since they were accepted into the program.
Earlier this year, Nurse Faculty Scholar Joachim Voss, UW assistant professor of biobehavioral nursing and health systems, received the 2010 Undergraduate Research Mentor Award. Voss was among five UW faculty members to receive this year’s award and the first professor from the School of Nursing ever to receive the honor. The award is open to all faculty members at the UW, which has 3,600 instructional faculty.
The Nurse Faculty Scholars program is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and administered through the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing. It is directed by Jacquelyn Campbell, the Anna D. Wolf chair and professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.
Phillippa Kassover and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation contributed to this story.