Missouri City resident Jackie Ward became the chief nursing officer at Texas Children’s Hospital in January. From a young age, Ward was exposed to the health care profession; her mother worked at Texas Children’s for 36 years. Ward started at Texas Children’s as a professional student and was hired as a night shift staff nurse in 1993 before moving up in the ranks as an oncology nurse and into leadership roles.

What is your role as chief nursing officer?

As the chief nursing officer, I'm responsible for the nursing practice for all nurses in the organization, and we have almost 3,800 nurses across the system. I'm responsible for the practice of nursing. I'm responsible for quality and outcomes as it relates to nursing care. I am responsible for ensuring that we have a solid, stable workforce from a recruitment and retention perspective. I set the strategic plan for nursing and the vision for nursing with my team.

What inspired you to go into nursing?

Early on I knew I wanted to be in health care. I originally thought I wanted to be a pediatrician. When I started to reflect as I got older, what really drives me and what my passions were gets into the art and the science of nursing. Nurses—not that physicians aren't—but they have that nurturing side to them, and they certainly have the advocacy, just like our physician partners do. So nursing was more of a calling to me.

Texas Children's was always on my radar as the place of my career as a destination. And so it was not a difficult decision for me; it was what I always knew I wanted to do.

What is it about caring for children that you are passionate about?

As I think about pediatrics, it is quite different from adults. Children bring a sense of resilience; they bring a sense of reality to you, because they're so transparent.

I also believe you're treating the entire family, and that’s what I enjoy. One of the most important gifts that I've had is being able to walk with a family through one of the most challenging parts of their life. So being the link for them, being the voice for them, being the eyes and the ears for the physician as it relates to the family dynamics of how a child is being cared for or what the parent needs, I think was really something that I felt was a calling for me. You get to actually help parents learn how to parent; you teach them how to care for their child when they go home; and they want to get it right, so you're really important to them.

It’s fun, too. It's light-hearted, even though they're challenged with a health issue for their child at the time, it is a place of joy and fun. It's not a sterile environment; the colors are bright; and there’s a lot of support.

What are some of your biggest priorities in your role as chief nursing officer?

My biggest priorities are recruiting the brightest of the brightest here at Texas Children's. I believe a highly competent workforce is key to high-quality outcomes. I'm really focused on quality and outcomes obviously as it relates to what nursing contributes to that. The hands of a nurse and the care that she delivers is important. They are directly linked to patient outcomes and how those outcomes are positive or negative.

And, I am still working to execute on my vision ... with pillars of leadership development, quality and outcomes, developing a strong and solid research infrastructure, and getting involved in the community more. I think the post-COVID[-19] era is going to require nurses at Texas Children's to really lead in the community to be able to support schools to be able to provide education on how to navigate a world where COVID is still present.

How has the pandemic shaped your opinion on the nursing profession and your career?

It has really shown me what I've always believed the nursing profession is all about. It's about stepping up. It's about being there when the community needs you. It's about actually going into an unknown, not knowing what's on the other side or what it's going to entail, but truly believing in the passion that a nurse [brings]. When you go into nursing, you go into it as a calling. And I believe that the pandemic has shown the world that [nurses] didn't walk away. I had nurses that were asking to go to New York at the beginning of the pandemic, and several did, because they felt that state needed more nurses. I believe this pandemic truly highlighted that the profession of nursing stands by the oath that we take when we become a nurse that says we will do no harm, but we will be called, and we will come to the aid of our community.