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William F. Connell School of Nursing

Research for the public arena

by debra bradley ruder

As alumni make their mark, Connell School faculty are researchers, activists, and teachers helping inf luence public policy on vital issues. Due out this spring, the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the U.S. “bible” for mental health care, will recognize binge eating disorder as an illness, rather than as a condition in need of further study.

Barbara Wolfe, associate dean for research and professor. Photograph: Tony Rinaldo
Barbara Wolfe, associate dean for research and professor

The change was a victory for many, including Barbara Wolfe, CSON’s associate dean for research. She contributed to the new guidelines when she served for five years on an American Psychiatric Association work group that revisited the DSM’s eating disorders section. The manual influences both policy and practice, notes Wolfe, a psychiatric nurse who studies the psychobiology of eating disorders and was the only nurse on the 12-member committee. “It defines the disorders, the criteria for diagnosing them, and how people get reimbursed for treating them—basing it on the science.”

Judith A. Vessey, the Lelia Holden Carroll Professor in Nursing. Photograph: Tony Rinaldo
Judith A. Vessey, the Lelia Holden Carroll Professor in Nursing

Judith A. Vessey, the Lelia Holden Carroll Professor in Nursing, studies and writes about the “pervasive malignancy” of bullying among children and adults, an interest inspired by her work as a developmental pediatric nurse practitioner.

She helped develop the federal government’s antibullying social marketing campaign (now part of stopbullying.gov) and drafted early policies on bullying for the National Association of School Nurses.

At Boston College, Vessey teaches undergraduates and graduate students about health care policy. In one course, her students compare and analyze health insurance plans that reveal how similar coverage that costs one family more than $20,000 a year can cost another almost nothing. The assignment reminds students that “they need to read their own paperwork, that there are tremendous inequities in the system, and that having insurance will not necessarily protect you from financial hardship,” Vessey explained. “The bigger message is, from a social justice perspective, about the haves and the have nots.”

Professor Ann Wolbert Burgess. Photograph: Josh Levine
Professor Ann Wolbert Burgess

Professor Ann Wolbert Burgess has devoted her career to improving treatment for victims of violence and abuse—and understanding the behavior of criminals. A pioneer in forensic nursing, Burgess in the early 1970s cofounded one of the first hospital-based crisis counseling programs with Lynda Lytle Holmstrom (now sociology professor emerita). The two introduced “rape trauma syndrome” into the medical and legal lexicons.

Burgess has worked with the FBI to develop criminal profiles, given expert courtroom testimony, and studied such topics as child molesters, cyber crimes, elder abuse, and murder-suicides. At the Connell School, she has taught courses in victimology and forensics. She also helped establish a master’s specialty in forensic nursing that trains students in caring for victims and perpetrators of violence, collecting evidence, developing policy, and influencing legislation. ✹

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