Jeanne Matthews: Protecting the Public’s Health through Education, Planning, and Prevention
When H1N1 influenza hit the world stage this spring, Jeanne Matthews, PhD, RN, assistant professor of nursing at the School of Nursing & Health Studies, knowingly entered the fray – as usual.
Aside from teaching at Georgetown, Matthews shares the role of nurse manager of Arlington County, Va.’s Department of Human Services’ Public Health Division with Diane Downing, PhD, RN, an instructor of nursing at Georgetown. In that position, Matthews and her colleagues work to keep the local community healthy – battling everything from seasonal flu and norovirus, to measles – through planning and prevention.
In the recent public health crisis, Matthews has been tackling the swine-origin influenza A (H1N1) virus—commonly known as swine flu or H1N1—which continues to affect people around the globe. She says the Arlington team has been preparing for years to handle situations like this one.
“We started planning for a potential pandemic years ago, put systems in place, and developed plans to deal with it,” she says. “So if we had a big challenge, we’d be able to meet it. It’s not just true of Arlington, that’s true of the whole country.”
Matthews, who is immediate past chair of the Public Health Nursing Section of the American Public Health Association, notes that a lot of the county’s pandemic planning originally concerned avian flu.
“That was the stimulus,” she says. “But the reality is that whether it’s avian or swine flu, a pandemic is a pandemic. There might be some specifics about treatment that change or differences in severity, but the reality of all pandemics is the same. You want to be able to identify who the cases are, control the spread, and mitigate the impact on the community.”
A Passion for Public Health
As a Georgetown professor, Matthews regularly shares her real-world experiences with students to enrich classroom learning.
In her undergraduate public health nursing course, Matthews says students learn about outbreak investigation, epidemiology, communicable disease, emergency preparedness, and partnership with communities.
“We recently examined a measles outbreak in the Washington area,” says Matthews. “I walked [the students] through from the start of when we first heard about it through the collaborative work done by public health communities with businesses, schools, and so on to where we are now,” she says. “They are great teaching cases for our students.”
Matthews’ own teaching career began about 30 years ago, and her love for public health nursing has grown steadily over that time.
She received her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Hunter Bellevue School of Nursing in New York City and spent her early career working in critical care, case management, and public health nursing in New York City and Rochester, N.Y.
Matthews later earned her master’s degree in nursing from the University of Rochester and her doctorate in nursing at the University of Maryland at Baltimore.
“In 1993, I moved to Georgetown, a change that I thought would fit philosophically with my lifelong interest in social justice,” she says. “That has enriched my life greatly.”
At NHS, she now teaches students in three courses including population health and a capstone—both taught with Michael Stoto, PhD, professor of health systems administration—and public health nursing, which she teaches with Downing.
“I love my work in public health,” Matthews says. “Combining academic and practice roles gives me the opportunity to share my passion with the next generation of public health leaders. By engaging students in the policy and practice activities of day-to-day public health in the national capital region, our students develop the needed skills to shape the nation’s health through prevention and population-focused practice.”
By Lauren Burgoon, Bill Cessato, and Tressa Kirby, excerpted from the forthcoming Fall 2009 issue of Healthcare Horizons