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Bridgewater State security officer studying to become mental health nurse practitioner at UMass Chan

Joseph Bartuah, who also serves in the National Guard, grew up in Liberia and aims to help trauma patients and veterans

Joseph Bartuah
Joseph Bartuah following the 2023 Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing Pinning Ceremony

Growing up in war-torn Liberia, Joseph Bartuah experienced trauma and witnessed death on large scale. It’s these experiences as a child that routed Bartuah’s path toward a career in mental health, working with trauma patients and veterans.

“I find working in mental health appealing because once you build trust with these patients, listen to them, and try to understand where they’re coming from, you become a very important resource for them. Patients learn to trust you and you can see the impact you have on their lives,” said Bartuah, a Doctor of Nursing Practice student in the Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing Graduate Entry Pathway program.

According to the Center for Justice and Accountability, more than 250,000 men, women and children died and more than half of the country’s population was displaced during the Liberian Civil War between 1989 and 2003.

“I realize now that some of my reactions to certain situations are a direct response to the trauma I had as a child growing up in Liberia. I didn’t know that until I educated myself on what trauma patients are experiencing,” Bartuah said.

Bartuah is pursuing a career as a mental health nurse practitioner to work with immigrants and veterans experiencing trauma. He was one of 33 nurses recognized at the Graduate Entry Pathway Pinning Ceremony during Convocation week.

During the ceremony, he was awarded the Community Engagement Award, a $1,000 scholarship.

Rose Kronziah-Seme, PhD, MSN, RN, CHSE, presented the award to Bartuah and said, “He is indeed a trailblazer for members of the community. He’s paving the way for the future nursing students to have a role in serving not only the Liberian immigrant community, but also the Worcester community.”

“The pinning means everything to me. It’s a big source of pride for my family. My father always stressed education was very important,” Bartuah said. “I’m proud just making him proud to come this far.”

Bartuah’s father, Joseph Bartuah Sr., a Liberian journalist and author, left Liberia in 2001 to come to the United States after being arrested with several other journalists for reporting on injustices perpetrated by the Liberian government. Fortunately, Bartuah, his mother and six brothers, were able to leave Liberia in 2006 and join Bartuah’s father in Dorchester, Massachusetts, where they are active members of the Liberian community of Greater Boston.

Bartuah earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from UMass Lowell in 2014 and his master’s degree in international relations and affairs from Harvard University in 2018.

“Coming from Liberia, I chose to study political science, thinking I could help make things better at home. I quickly realized that was a more complicated pursuit than I thought,” Bartuah said. “I used to deny the importance of mental health. I grew up in a tough place and I turned out okay, so I wondered what excuses anyone could have to get help.”

Bartuah is a National Guardsman and works as a security officer at Bridgewater State Hospital, a medium-security facility housing male patients with severe mental illness, some of whom are involved in the criminal legal system. Prior to that, he worked as a corrections officer for the Norfolk County Sheriff’s Department at the Norfolk County Correctional Center in Dedham.

Bartuah credits his time in the National Guard and working at Norfolk County Correctional Center and Bridgewater State Hospital to opening his eyes to the importance of mental health and the need for more professionals in the field.

“I now feel like a career in nursing would have even more of a direct impact on the communities I grew up in,” Bartuah said.