CSON Prof Recognized As ‘Living Legend’
Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 14, 2013 13:03
When Ann Burgess, professor of nursing, obtained her doctorate in Nursing Science, she wanted to spend her time treating patients. She never intended to enter academia. Over 30 years later, Burgess has recently been named the inaugural recipient of the “Living Legend Award” from the New England chapter of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association for her research in forensic nursing.
“[This] is my discipline—I am a psychiatric nurse—so to be recognized by my own nursing discipline is indeed an honor,” Burgess said. “It acknowledges clinically who I am in my work and also my academic career.”
Burgess’s academic career began at Boston College when she received a phone call from the chair of the department. BC needed an instructor for a semester or two due to an unexpected vacancy and asked her to fill the spot. What started as a temporary position became more permanent after she began doing research with then-sociology professor Linda Holmstrom.
“It was really Linda that invited me to start the research that I did on crime victims,” Burgess said. “The first study that we did was on rape victims and we did that at Boston City Hospital. At the particular time that Linda and I did our research, the women’s movement was talking about rape as a crime against women. Law enforcement was heeding the need to have not only local law enforcement, but also the FBI trained in the field.”
Invited by the FBI behavioral science unit, Burgess began a consulting relationship with them that focused on the study of rape and rapists. Over a 15-year period, she expanded her consultation with the FBI to include studying victims of other crimes such as homicide and child molestation.
“That work provided me the basis to better understand the offender,” Burgess said. “Now I could look at both victims and see what traumatized them through understanding the offender.”
In 1983, Burgess joined the faculty of nursing at the University of Pennsylvania. There she accepted the Van Ameringen Chair in Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, the first endowed chair in the school of nursing. Burgess continued her research in the field of victimology and taught forensic nursing courses there for 17 years before returning to BC in 2000.
After returning to BC, Burgess further expanded the scope of her research. She has received research grants to investigate elder sexual abuse, and much of her current research focuses on the psychology of murder-suicides.
“I want to better understand murder-suicide, compared to persons who just murder and persons who just suicide,” Burgess said. “What makes the difference as there are becoming more of these murder-suicides? That takes me into the mass-shooting issue, the community shooters, and the school shooters to try to better understand and come up with some prevention in that area. That brings me back to my field of psychiatric nursing. I do believe that we are too near-sighted to think that banning guns will do it. There is a type of person who acts on their psychology to commit horrific acts.”
Burgess’ research in that field has led her to analyze a sample of over 1,200 cases from the Orange and Los Angeles counties in the past five years. In this sample, she has found patterns in the psychological profiles of some of the criminals. Although the research is still in the data analysis phase, Burgess hopes that they will eventually be able to make policy suggestions from this study.
“We have looked in depth at some of the cases to understand the personality structure and what goes wrong,” she said. “Already we have some ideas—the person that feels isolated. Paranoia is a big issue that I don’t think we have assessed enough.”
Throughout her decades in academia, one thing that Burgess has remained adamant about has been staying involved in the clinical aspects of being a nurse.
“I always have had a private practice,” Burgess said. “I am still able to see patients. It is important that I am able to keep up my skill as a clinician and stay current with what is going on in the field. I have prescriptive authority and see patients with a variety of mental health concerns. Nurses, because of my total background, can look at not only mental issues but also the functional status—physical health concerns.”