Graduate Combines Love of Nursing and Forensics to Improve Patient Safety

Beatrice Yorker. Photos by Anibal Ortiz

Working at Grady Memorial Hospital and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta early in her nursing career, Beatrice Yorker (J.D. ’88) frequently saw the classic signs of child abuse, which set the course for Yorker’s life work.

After earning her J.D., she involved herself in probing the shadowy corners of human care. Her investigations led to a law review article on Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, a form of child abuse in which a parent makes their child ill for medical attention. Yorker, along with an international team of researchers, also conducted a comprehensive overview of serial murder in clinical and hospital settings, published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences. Both of these established her as a leading expert.

“A nice side effect of our look at the number of patient deaths and injuries has been the safeguards such as barcodes for medication administration and strict pharmacy controls put in place to deter potential rogue nurses,” said Yorker. “Now it’s much harder to get away with injecting a patient with a lethal dose of medicine.”

Yorker’s work led her to California State University, Los Angeles, where she serves as professor emerita in the College of Health and Human Services, School of Nursing. From 2005 to 2015, she oversaw that college, which includes schools of Nursing, Criminal Justice, Social Work, Child Development, Public Health, and Criminal Justice and Criminalistics,  as dean.

Her university also built the Hertzberg Davis Forensic Science Center, housing the LA Police Department and LA County Sheriff ’s Department crime lab and Forensic Science Institute, which provides state-of-the-art DNA, ballistics, trace evidence processing and other forensic analysis.

“I am very fortunate to have been able to close out my career in such an interdisciplinary and rewarding setting,” Yorker said.

Yorker’s path-breaking work and policy impact continues. She is working on a follow-up study on serial murder in health care. She also serves an American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) task force that recently published national guidelines on Munchausen by Proxy, providing practical guidance for practitioners, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and the lay public about this baffling type of child abuse.