Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Beth Kotarski was recently appointed as the new Director of Worth Health Center and will be officially starting her tenure on October 1st. She’s been at Swarthmore before, having been a women’s health specialist here over ten years ago, but has been at Haverford for the last eleven years, serving as Associate Director for the past six.
As Director, Kotarski’s primary job will be facilitating health programs and communication, but she will also be doing clinical work with women’s health and general health. She also holds a certification in Family Health from Widener.
Kotarski earned her nurse practicioner degree from Penn, focusing on women’s health and specifically sexual violence against women. She explains, “as a student I had a patient with a bruise on her breast, and I didn’t ask her what she got it from. She told me ‘Oh, my boyfriend got a little rough with me last night’ and I was unprepared, and I thought the school had done a poor job of preparing me for that.”
She continues, “I knew domestic violence happened, we called it wife-beating back then, but I went to my program director and said, you know, one in four women is abused, and one in eighty women has cervical cancer, not to knock cervical cancer, but we’re in women’s health and we’re at Penn, we should really have a place to go learn about this.”
Kotarski worked at a domestic violence shelter in Camden County where she learned more about the issue, and she made it a focus of the remainder of her time at Penn. “When Linda [Echols, retiring Director of Worth Health Center] was looking for a part-time women’s health person here, she called my program director… and my program director thought of me, because I was kind of the rabble-rouser who got the program started.”
Kotarski reports that “I felt instantly at home in college health… maybe that says something about the fact that I want to be a perpetual student, I don’t know.” She continues “education is the fun part of college health… education and empowerment, I learn something from every patient that I have and I find that we learn as much as we give.”
With this student-centered approach, Kotarski is excited about the chance to work with the Sexual Health Counselors and see the results of their survey, exclaiming “that’s my bread and butter, baby! You can ask any of the students at Haverford… I rarely get complaints on the reproductive health end.”
Given a question about the price of birth control pills at Swarthmore, Kotarski explained that Swarthmore (where the going rate is $7 a pack) has been lucky so far; Haverford students have always paid $20 per pack, and Planned Parenthood sells packs for $17-25.
The loss of federal support means that everyone is going to have to pay more, explains Kotarski, not just Swarthmore students, and “I don’t feel comfortable fighting to keep it at $7 for us when women making fourteen thousand a year have to pay $40.” That said, “I’m committed to keeping the price low–I think I can do it for $11–and it will never be a profit-making venture on our end.”
Kotarski was very involved in student outreach at Haverford and hopes to continue that here through radio shows, fireside chats, and brown-bag lunches. She says, “I want to open a dialogue, because college health centers are traditionally like dining services… other than the food it’s health services that gets dinged.” While she accepts that she can’t make everyone happy, at the very least “I want to be able to have a forum where students can feel comfortable coming to me with their concerns.”
Kotarski expressed enthusiasm for the goals of Swarthmore Clean Hands, Student Health and Wellness Committee, and even Swarthmore Good Food, saying “I would be very willing to be a resource for anyone trying to improve student health.”
At Haverford she worked closely with the Women’s Center and was part of “The Circle,” their equivalent of the SMART team, explaining that “health services needs to be an integral member of the community in terms of sexual violence issues.”
In response to a question about the biggest problem at Haverford, Kotarski discussed alcohol and alcohol education. Haverford deals with alcohol in much the same way as we do, with one big difference: their health center isn’t open twenty-four hours a day, so students don’t necessarily have a safe place to go between their room and the ER.
Kotarski is hoping to work with staff to establish a clear set of assessment guidelines for when students need to go to the hospital. She understands that students don’t want to be followed by the police, but “alcohol intoxication is something that can quickly deteriorate… that’s something I’m very serious about, because when I’ve seen students in the ER it has almost always been because of alcohol.”
She also plans to talk with the Swarthmore Police, explaining that “they’re coming from a community perspective, but I think that if there’s good internal adjudication to get the student help, ultimately that’s what we all want.”
Kotarski concluded the interview by saying, “my dream is to have us be not just a model student health center for the community but for the country… this is a premiere academic institution, and I hope I can bring my personal stamp to the place and make it one that other institutions would want to emulate.”