NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Bernice Catherine Harper
Dr. Bernice Harper was Medical Care Advisor to the Health Care Financing Administration in Washington, DC. Her career, which has progressed to this most influential Federal level, has focused on the area of health care and health care policy formulation. She has practiced in varied settings and personified the values and ethical standards of the social work profession even in the most difficult and highly charged political environments.
Harper earned her MSW degree from the University of Southern California in 1948, her MSc.PH from Harvard University in 1959 and her LLD degree from Faith Grant College, Birmingham, AL.
She was instrumental in developing long term program policies which highlight continuity-of-care, including community and institutional care, and stresses the importance of psychosocial components. Her commitment to the long term care of those in need has served to demonstrate the best of the best for the profession and for those in need. Her insight and commitment to professionals, especially social workers, who are under both personal and professional stress as they work with patients in the final phases of their lives, combined with her perspective, academic, and practice skills with their families, motivated her to produce a definitive publication on death and the special needs for professionals to cope with their related stress. The book, Death: The Coping Mechanism of the Health Professional, was in advance of the interest now placed on this area. Harper identified and labeled specific stages of coping with death that are important to understand, especially for professionals living through the process with clients.
Harper's work at the City of Hope in California as Chief Social Worker and her practice with leukemia patients and families sustained her interest in the important needs of those with chronic and long term illness. She is nationally recognized for her work and is sought after for training workshops and conferences.
Bernice Harper has consistently been referred to as the professional's professional. Harper has been able to represent social work values and bring them into policy statements. She is a personification of social work's value base and has sustained that consistency in the Washington scene through multiple and changing administrations as well as political appointees. She has not compromised the long term health care needs of those in the country. She has also worked with multiple government organizations around minority services and activities for professional as well as other educational needs.
Harper serves on the board of directors for the NASW Foundation and has been active and held leadership positions at NASW and the International Conference on Social Welfare. She was the first recipient of the NASW Foundation's Knee/Wittman Outstanding Achievement in Health/Mental Health Policy Award.
In 2017, Harper was inducted into the California Social Work Hall of Distinction.