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Photo of Dr. Elizabeth Mertz

Dr. Elizabeth Mertz to Lead Research at Healthforce Center at UCSF

October 1, 2021

Healthforce Center at UCSF is excited to announce that Dr. Elizabeth Mertz has been appointed Associate Director of Research to succeed Dr. Joanne Spetz. In this role, Mertz will be responsible for developing new research opportunities and cultivating faculty connections.

Healthforce Center’s mission is to equip health organizations with the workforce knowledge and leadership skills to effect positive change, including research projects with actionable results, concrete policy recommendations, and systems change. We envision a responsive health system in which organizations and the health care workforce are prepared with the knowledge, strategy, and skills to drive progress toward more effective and equitable care. 

Dr. Sunita Mutha, Director at Healthforce Center, noted, “This role is an important leadership position for us and we are incredibly lucky to have had Joanne and now Beth come into the role with such expertise. They have decades of experience with Healthforce, and are committed to creating a collective force for health, equity, and action.”

Mertz, who has been at UCSF since 1997, said, “My vision going forward for Healthforce Center is to build external relationships, develop the pipeline of workforce researchers, and to diversify the partners that we have into other areas of the state and country. I’ll be looking for new opportunities and to reinvigorate our partnerships.” 

Mertz sees new opportunities with the state and other partners in these areas: 

  • Preventing and mitigating burnout among health care workers
  • Addressing workforce shortages in entry-level and female-dominated roles
  • Improving data collection to better inform policy and workforce deployment
  • Diversifying the workforce to advance equity
  • Developing leadership capacity across the health care workforce 

Mutha added, “Beth will bring new energy to our work. We know that complex problems are best solved by teams with a diversity of skills and backgrounds, and Beth brings those assets to our work.”

A key area of interest and expertise for Mertz is advancing health equity through actionable research and rigorous evaluation. When asked about taking on this role in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mertz said, “The pandemic has made clear the inequality, disparity, and even the inhumanity of how some people are treated, whether it's patients or the workforce itself. We have to rethink the work environment and how we take care of the people who take care of us — whether that's the facilities staff or surgeons. Healthforce Center is well positioned with our many connections and our body of research to advance equity in health care.”

Mertz’s recent research to promote equity involved a major study for the NIH’s National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) to evaluate the potential of innovative standardized caries, or cavities, prevention approaches implemented in Willamette Dental Group offices in Oregon to reduce disparities and improve oral health. It also assessed organizational sustainability, cost, and Medicaid policy implications. Her work on the health care workforce has long examined the importance of diversity as critical to equitable health outcomes.

Spetz assumed the role of Director at the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies in November 2020, and will continue as a faculty member at Healthforce Center. Mutha acknowledged Spetz’s contributions: “Joanne’s impact has been to help Healtforce Center establish a strong reputation for workforce research, which is rigorous, unbiased, and of the highest caliber.”

Spetz took the role in 2014 just after Healthforce Center’s founding director retired and Mutha took on the directorship. Together, they have led efforts to make actionable research a central prong of Healthforce Center’s portfolio while guiding rebranding of the organization, strengthening the leadership team, and building a culture of interdisciplinary teamwork.

Looking back, Spetz said, “We strengthened and expanded the research teams, resulting in greater cohesion and nimbleness to lead projects and opportunities for professional development. This was particularly important during the early months of the pandemic, when we rapidly responded to the state’s requests for assistance preparing the workforce for surges of patients.”

Considering the transition of the Associate Director of Research role to Mertz, Spetz said, “Beth helped to build our structures and processes — she understands the value of each individual’s contributions. She has natural leadership skills. Beth is also doing highly innovative research and approaches it with academic rigor — she is a great role model and mentor for emerging scholars.” 

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