NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Betsy Schaefer Vourlekis, PhD, ACSW
Pioneering Contributions: Betsy Schaefer Vourlekis’ social work career has been one of outstanding accomplishments in research, teaching, and practice. Vourlekis’ pioneering efforts have involved partnerships with practitioners and others to demonstrate though data the difference social work can make and to make the case for the profession's varied contributions to health and mental health care. As NASW's Staff Director for Health and Mental Health, she lead the Association’s efforts to develop clinical indicators for quality improvement in psychosocial care in acute care hospitals, home health, hospice, nursing homes and psychiatric hospitals. Vourlekis played a leading role in establishing the Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research (IASWR), a collaborative national research advocacy and capacity building organization involving 5 social work associations. She was appointed to the NIMH Task Force on Social Work Research in 1988 and chaired the National Implementation Committee on Social Work Research with a primary mission of establishing a research enhancement structure. She served as Interim Director of IASWR in 1993 until a permanent director could be appointed. Along with Kathleen Ell at USC, Vourlekis carried out a federally funded 5 year intervention study of a social work led case managed approach to breast and cervical cancer abnormal screening and treatment adherence "Project Safe" that was selected by the National Cancer Institute for its Research-Tested Interventions website. Her visualization of the creative role social workers must play in quality health care; her efforts to construct and promote practical evidence-based practice tools; and her disciplined approach to studying and demonstrating the factors that contribute to the highest quality of social work are areas in which she has truly been a pioneer.
Career Highlights: After receiving her MSW in 1966 Vourlekis ran a community center in Cuzco, Peru while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer. When she returned to the United States in 1969 she worked as a psychiatric social worker at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, DC, where she remained until 1973. Throughout the 1970’s, Vourlekis was a field instructor for Smith College, Howard University, and held a faculty position at University of Maryland. From 1973-1980, she was an Assistant Professor at University of Maryland School of Social Work. In 1980, she became the Social Work Training Officer at St. Elizabeths while completing her Ph.D. She joined the staff of NASW in 1984, serving as staff director for health and mental health. Since 1988, she has been on the faculty at the University of Maryland School of Social Work-Baltimore County, where she is Professor of Social Work. She is the author of numerous articles and has presented her work on quality improvement tools for practice and teaching, and evidence-based social work case management at conferences and workshops both in the US and internationally.
Biographic Data: Born in Buffalo, New York, Betsy Vourlekis grew up in the Boston area, in a family of three brothers. Her youngest brother was profoundly intellectually disabled and cared for at home, a strong influence for her understanding of the need for social resources and emotional support to families. Vourlekis received her BA Magna Cum Laude from Harvard University in 1964, her MSW from Columbia University in 1966, and a PhD in Human Development from the University of Maryland College Park in 1984. As a history major in college, she enjoys researching and writing about the history of the profession, particularly its early roots in psychiatric care.
Significant Achievements and Awards Received: Vourlekis received an NIMH Graduate Fellowship (1964-66) to study social work at Columbia University. She was awarded the Council on Social Work Education' s "Distinguished Recent Contributions Award" in 1994, and NASW's Knee/Wittman Lifetime Achievement in Health and Mental Health Practice award in 2008. She was elected into the National Academies of Practice as a Distinguished Scholar of Social Work in 2002. As a principal or co-principal investigator she has received more than two and a quarter million dollars in Federal and foundation funded research grants.
Vourlekis, B.S. and Greene, R.R., Editors (1992) Social Work Case Management. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 199 pages.
Vourlekis, B.S., Edinburg, G., and Knee, R.I. (1998). The rise of social work in public mental health through aftercare of people with serious mental illness. Social Work (Centennial Issue), 43, 568-575.
Vourlekis, B.S., Ell, K., and Padgett, D.K. (2001). Educating social workers for health care’s brave new world. Journal of Social Work Education, 37, 177-191.
Vourlekis, B. and Ell, K. (2007) Best Practice Case Management for Improved Medical Adherence. Social Work in Health Care, 44, 161-177.
Social Work Pioneer- 1998