profile: betsy brown '85 creates real change in a global nursing community
by Kirsten Erwin
Betsy Brown was honored last year for her commitment to excellence in international community nursing with the William F. Connell School of Nursing’s inaugural Dean Rita Kelleher Award, named for the school’s dean emeritus and professor. Rita Kelleher, who died this November at the age of 101, was a pioneer and a lifelong leader in nursing, steadfastly dedicated to both the profession and to Boston College. Following in her footsteps, the Kelleher Award recipient must be an accomplished nursing leader, an ethically aware scientist, and a skilled and inquisitive clinician.
Connell School dean Susan Gennaro presented the award to Brown (top right) at the school’s annual alumni reunion. “Like Rita Kelleher,” Dean Gennaro stated, “Betsy Brown is a compassionate, committed steward of the nursing profession.”
Elizabeth “Betsy” Brown ’85 develops hospital and academic facilities, clinical programs, professional staff, and systems to improve quality and patient safety. She is the director of clinical services at Partners Harvard Medical International, an academic non-profit that provides education and professional services around the world, and her work brings her together with teams in China, Dubai, Ecuador, Greece, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Turkey, and Zimbabwe. This past June, Brown was recognized for her excellence in international community nursing with the Connell School’s inaugural Dean Rita Kelleher Alumnae/i Award.
In working with people across the globe, Brown emphasizes the importance of understanding the needs of each community. “The solutions draw upon local needs,” she states. “What we try to do is figure out what those needs are, recognizing both the strengths and opportunities.”
She cites a current project with a nursing school in Pakistan, a country with one of the lowest rates of nurses per capita and one of the highest rates of maternal/child health morbidity and mortality. “Here in the U.S.,” says Brown, “midwifery is a master’s program. But in Pakistan as in many parts of the world, there are very, very few faculty members available to educate midwives at a master’s level and an overwhelming need for maternal child health care providers. So we’re designing the school’s BScN curriculum with that in mind—doing research on strengthening the level of competency in maternal/child health appropriate for nurses in a bachelor’s program—in order to meet that vital community need.”
Cultural context is crucial in Brown’s work. “We really try to understand the way people live and what is most important to them,” she says. “Health, culture, politics, social norms, religions, family—you have to appreciate and draw upon all of those dimensions of care to find the best solutions. For example, our team noticed that patient fall rates in India were much lower than what we see in the U.S. We wondered if the data were being collected incorrectly or if the falls weren’t being reported at all. Then we talked to the Indian nursing team, who revealed that family members stay in the hospital with almost every single patient, even overnight. If the patient needs assistance, the family is often there to immediately help or call a nurse. Because the level of family involvement in care is different than what we may see in the U.S. or in other countries, we realized that the fall rates may indeed be lower, and we can learn from comparing approaches to care.”
Brown is proud of the collaborative nature of her work, the way relationships form between local and international team members. “Both groups grow. When I hear stories of people who have come together and say that what they have learned from another group of nurses across the world is now impacting their patient care in Boston, or in India or Turkey, I find that very rewarding.”
In addition to partnerships among nurses, Brown sees new interdisciplinary models of care and education as exciting solutions in working toward solving the deep global health care profession shortage. Some of her projects are looking at new models of education that bring the health professions—nursing, physicians, pharmacy—together to share curriculum and classroom space in order to build common competencies. “I think as nurses, collaboration is a part of our value system,” explains Brown, “yet our academic settings haven’t necessarily been designed that way. These new programs are very exciting to me in terms of instilling the practice of interdisciplinary teamwork into the undergraduate and graduate curriculum, so that when these health care professionals are in the practice setting, they have already been in many learning situations together.“
The word ‘community’ has changed so much. It doesn’t just mean your own backyard anymore, or even your own country. The global nursing community is really growing and connecting; there is just so much collaboration. I have reached out to many nurses, around the world and right within the Boston College community, and found genuine interest in sharing expertise and helping our colleagues in another country. That’s what is so exciting: The global nursing community recognizes that by working together we all develop. The whole profession develops.”