How does a woman who lives on Whidbey Island (a drive of about thirty miles and a ferry ride from Seattle and the University of Washington), and the mother of four boys, aged 14, 12, 8, and 6, come to teach accounting at the university's Extended MPH Degree Program (eMPH)? When Wendy Baesler was an undergraduate accounting major, she worked for a large nonprofit agency that provided mental health care services to children in both in- and outpatient settings. High-level managers at the organization committed a multimillion dollar fraud, which resulted in three of them going to prison and many more being fired. Wendy and other students helped organize the agency's accounting system and response to a state audit. The experience showed Wendy "the important link between the accounting system and providing health care" and led to her specializing in this area.
Wendy Baesler teaches accounting to all students in the eMPH. "Everybody who works in public health must interact with accounting and finance, whether that be in preparing a budget, writing a grant, being audited by Medicaid, or myriad other situations," she says. She adds that although public health professionals can usually rely on others with more financial expertise to create budgets and do the accounting, "They must have an understanding of how those numbers were created and how they are to be interpreted. This understanding will help ensure that public health goals are met in the most cost-effective ways and that the health organization is making wise financial decisions." To that end, she prepares students for real-world situations they will, or are already, facing.
Wendy encourages students to bring tasks from their workplace to class so that all class members can learn from them. In one case, a student was preparing a budget for his department at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and when Wendy pointed out a different way of approaching the process, he was able to set a more accurate budget. Two other students worked in a clinic that was considering moving patient files to a different site, and they needed to prepare financial data on the impact of this relocation. According to Wendy, "Class discussions helped the students see what costs and benefits were relevant to the decision so they could present this information to their managers."
Wendy has taught in the eMPH for about fifteen years, and she considers doing so a privilege. She also lends her accounting expertise to many nonprofit organizations in her community and to her local school board and Parent Teacher Association. In closing, she remarks, "I have found that being able to look at a page of financial data and decipher the meaningful information is a great skill that is needed everywhere. I work to train students to do just that."