COVID-19 & Nurse Scientists on the Front Line: Betty Bekemeier

Betty Bekemeier 
University of Washington School of Nursing

Please describe your work with the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a nurse scientist, my scholarship is about advancing the evidence, policy development, and workforce capacity needed for state and local governmental public health systems to effectively promote and protect the public’s health. In the face of this pandemic, I have been communicating every day with state and local public health practice partners in Washington State and around our region as they have come to me with requests for help from our academic and student partners. As Director of the Northwest Center for Public Health Practice at the University of Washington, I also lead a training team of talented staff who are being tapped to meet public health practice needs. Finally, my research team is also being asked by a national organization to help support and monitor the equitable distribution of federal COVID-19 financial resources from states to communities in greatest need. 

All of these activities include coordinating requests from public health practice to the academic community, linking student volunteers to health departments in their home communities, making existing and appropriate emergency preparedness training most accessible to practice, adapting my research to include preparedness and response measures desired by the public health leaders, communicating the depth of our nation’s public health practice needs through a published editorial and interviews with national news outlets, and advocating for resources to go to ‘upstream’ solutions that will promote equity in response to this pandemic crisis and the prevention of disparities.

Please give us information about your background and history as a nurse scientist.
I began my nursing career as a public health nurse, have considered myself one ever since, and have devoted my research career to advancing the work of public health nurses and the public health agencies in which many of them serve. My research expertise and efforts are, thus, focused on practice-based and translational science to improve public health systems and reduce disparities by maximizing the health promoting contributions of governmental public health departments. I have been actively participating in the small national community of public health systems researchers since its beginnings in approximately 2001 and am nationally recognized as one of the few public health systems researchers in the country who has previously worked “on the ground” – directly in and with local and state public health departments and their leaders. As a nurse-researcher I also bring a valued nursing perspective to public health systems, comprised largely of nurses and local health departments that are overseen predominately by nurse leaders.

What else would you like the public to know about your role or the role of nurse scientists in the fight against COVID-19?
My scholarship as a nurse scientist is focused on advancing the evidence, policy development, and capacity needed to guide state and local governmental public health system and prevention policy changes needed to transform population health improvement and promote equity. As nurses are by far the largest professional sector in public health systems and play an increasingly prominent and critical role in advancing population health, my research fits squarely into what I consider my obligations and responsibilities as a nurse scientist. I am exceedingly passionate about the importance of prevention and health protection and the roles that our committed, self-sacrificing, community-focused, and well-respected public health leaders play. The scholarship that generates and translates the evidence they need to serve their communities, however, has been underfunded and under-recognized. In the face of this COVID-19 crisis, the essential role that public health agencies and their leaders play is more obvious than ever and shines a bright light on the need for evidence-based policies, systems, and infrastructure to support their efforts that we ALL rely on.

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