Former HHS Official Joins School of Nursing & Health Studies

SEPTEMBER 21, 2017 - Mary Wakefield, PhD, RN, FAAN, a former official with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), joins Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies (NHS) as a visiting Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Health Care. 

Wakefield is a former acting deputy secretary of HHS and former administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration atDr. Mary Wakefield HHS – positions she held during the Obama administration.

“It is a considerable honor to welcome Dr. Wakefield to our academic community,” said NHS Dean Patricia Cloonan, PhD, RN. “Our school is poised to continue making important contributions in the broad domains of health equity and health workforce, and Dr. Wakefield’s expertise and presence will be a significant step in this pursuit.”

Community Focus

Wakefield, who will join NHS on October 1, said she plans to encourage students to think about the policy aspects of the health fields they will enter.

“Through my seminar, I would like to empower clinicians and health executives to see the connections between health policy and what happens to the patients they serve,” Wakefield said. “I view engagement in health policy as a professional responsibility.”

Throughout her career, Wakefield has worked to improve access to health care for underserved populations. While at HRSA, the agency received a big spending boost from the Affordable Care Act, Wakefield said, which allowed it to set up new community health centers in areas with high numbers of minority, immigrant, and low-income residents. Under her leadership, HRSA also took steps to increase and diversify the health care workforce, build up a home visiting program to bring health workers to vulnerable mothers and children, and further spread the use of telemedicine in rural areas.

Informing Health Policy

Wakefield began her career practicing medical-surgical and intensive care nursing in her native North Dakota, and practiced clinically while earning a master’s degree and PhD in nursing from the University of Texas at Austin. A health policy course in her master’s degree program reinforced her commitment to shape health policy as a member of her state nurses association. She said these experiences set her on a path to become one of the few nurses to work in senior positions in federal health policy. 

“The people I worked with on Capitol Hill tended to have a background in law or policy, not health care,” Wakefield said. “Because of my experience as a nurse, I knew about health care, including rural health and health professions education, and I used that experience to inform health policy. Having that hands-on experience matters.” 

While she considered it a privilege to care for patients in clinical settings, Wakefield said early on she realized, “I could be providing care to six patients on a shift, or informing care for 60,000 or 6 million people through health policy. Both have impact for families and communities and benefit from nursing knowledge.” 

Engaging With Students, Faculty

In her position at Georgetown, Wakefield will lead policy seminars with NHS students and also meet with them informally to discuss their future careers and goals. Additionally, she will engage with faculty members on their areas of interest and deliver a public presentation to the university community.

Wakefield is a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing and an elected member of the National Academies. Previously, she served as director of the Center for Rural Health and a tenured professor at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of North Dakota.

In addition to her new role at Georgetown, Wakefield will return to her alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing, to serve as visiting professor and Distinguished Fellow of the Joseph H. Blades Centennial Memorial Professorship in Nursing. 

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