Unique Scientist: Dr. Beth Prusaczyk

Time to meet Dr. Beth Prusaczyk (She/her)! Dr. Prusaczyk is a scientists at Washington University in St. Louis in the USA who studies how the health care system adopts and implements all of the effective programs, practices, and interventions other researchers have come up with.

What kind of scientist are you?
I study how the health care system adopts and implements all of the effective programs, practices, and interventions other researchers have come up with. For example, along the way, researchers figured out that if doctors, nurses, etc. in a hospital washed their hands more often, the number of infections patients acquired in the hospital would decrease and patients wouldn’t get sick and die as often from these infections. However, just knowing that hand-washing decreases infections wasn’t enough. Despite all of the time, effort, and resources that went into doing the research to establish this connection, publishing those results in a journal article didn’t lead to widespread change in hospital providers’ behavior. What I study is HOW we translate that research into widespread, real-world practice change. It’s a multifaceted challenge and includes changing provider behavior, organizational and system change, and policy change. It’s not easy but it’s so important!

What made you want to become a scientist?
I decided to become a scientist after I started working as an entry-level research assistant at a university and thought it was really cool to be able to come up with a plan to get a true answer to a burning question. How fun to be able to stop speculating and actually KNOW the truth!

“Not only am I a woman, but I grew up poor, in a small rural town in Illinois, I’m the first woman in my family to go to college, I certainly didn’t take the “preparatory” path towards college during high school, and I have my bachelor’s degree in a totally non-science related field”

Dr. Beth Prusaczyk

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
I’m a #UniqueScientist for a few reasons. Not only am I a woman (that doesn’t actually make me unique in my field as it is predominantly women) but I grew up poor, in a small rural town in Illinois, I’m the first woman in my family to go to college (my dad got a bachelor’s degree but that’s as far as college goes anywhere in my family), I certainly didn’t take the “preparatory” path towards college during high school, and I have my bachelor’s degree in a totally non-science related field (journalism). Oh, and I have a lot of tattoos!

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I am producing a documentary about what life was like for gay men in St. Louis in the 1940s and 1950s. I have no background in filmmaking but I am passionate about older adults, marginalized groups, and history so this was a natural fit!

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
If I had one wish, I would change the elitism and the “pipeline” privilege of science. I wish more opportunities were available to people who did not grow up in a family where higher education was even discussed, who did not have the opportunities to do unpaid internships or participate in undergraduate research, and who are not particularly well-traveled, well-cultured, etc. The opportunities given to those whose families know how the higher-ed system work and know how to prepare for a career in it are something that cannot be made up for later in the game for those of us without those privileges. For example, my high school did not offer Advanced Placement courses so I could not take them and I didn’t even know it was something I should have taken, so when I got to college I wasn’t as competitive as my classmates. I could not afford to do unpaid work in college so when it came time to apply for graduate school I did not have as many “skills” or as much experience as my colleagues. And this gap stays with you for the remainder of your career because we judge academics by the number of publications they have, the number of grants they get, the prestige of the institutions they train and work out – so if you don’t start out on that pipeline, you are always behind and you can never catch up. This goes for the “soft skills” of academia as well. No one in my family traveled out of the country growing up and we certainly did not do skiing, and the closest museum or symphony was two hours away (not that my family had an interest in those things anyway). Yet in academia we talk amongst each other as if everyone has studied abroad and seen a Broadway play, which leaves those of us without those experiences feeling, once again, like we are behind and will never catch up. I want ALL of that to change! I want people who grew up poor, working class, who maybe made some bad decisions early in life, who don’t come from a “good pedigree” to know that you can still be a scientist and you can soar just as high!

“The opportunities given to those whose families know how the higher-ed system work and know how to prepare for a career in it are something that cannot be made up for later in the game for those of us without those privileges.”

Dr. Beth Prusaczyk

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
I’ve drawn inspiration from different people at different points in my journey. Upon reflecting, my master’s advisor, Dr. Ramesh Raghavan, inspired me simply because he assumed I was intelligent and capable. He held me to a high standard and in working to meet that standard, I realized that I was actually intelligent and capable. It was the first time I felt challenged academically and it gave me the confidence to think, “If I can do this, I wonder what else I can do? Let me find out!” Then in my doctoral program, my mentor, Dr. Enola Proctor, inspired me in numerous ways. I remember when she told me that she still got nervous when giving a speech or big talk. She was an endowed chair and internationally recognized so to hear that she still got nervous, it made that little imposter syndrome voice in my head quiet a bit. If she still got nervous, it was OK that I got nervous too! As I move out of a trainee role and into an independent scientist role, I find myself more inspired by women I don’t know personally but who I know have endured adversity and still risen to great heights – Hillary Clinton, Stacey Abrams, Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Duckworth, and many more.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
After attending a professional meeting I sent out almost ten follow-up emails to people I had met in person so that I could build my professional network!


#WomenInSTEM, #FirstGen

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