LAUNCH OF INNOVATIVE, INTERPROFESSIONAL NURSING SCHOOL PROPELS FIRST FACULTY MEMBER THROUGH MULTIPLE MILESTONES
Perched conspicuously atop Deborah Ward's gray desk at UC Davis' new nursing school are four neat piles. Marked with large, pink Post-It notes, the piles sum up the controlled chaos of Ward's life as she helps the fledgling Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing take flight.
One pile, which she gallops through daily, is the DO THIS IMMEDIATELY pile. A second pile, visited frequently but with a tad less urgency, is labeled DO THIS. A third stack is the HOLD pile, and a fourth she calls her "you're never going to look at it again but you can't bear to throw it away yet" pile.
The overall message?
"The pace of our work right now is just wild," explains Ward, the first faculty member recruited by the nursing school and a key player in its creation. "It's deadline, deadline, deadline. I love that, but sometimes it's a challenge to keep pedaling fast enough."
Innovative, interprofessional curricula being developed at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing will result in a new breed of educators, researchers and leaders who promote health, advance quality of care and safety, and shape policy.
Ward's impressive credentials suggest she is not one to fall behind. Indeed, her energy, leadership ability and experience in multiple arenas are what prompted Heather M. Young, associate vice chancellor for nursing and founding dean of the nursing school, to hire her.
Young, who knew Ward from their days together at the University of Washington, calls her colleague open-minded, creative and "very adept at moving through the fluid and ever-changing modes of this launch period for the school."
A nationally recognized expert in health policy, Ward also brings to UC Davis "a passion and dedication to not only improve, but redesign systems of care, thus improving health for people everywhere," Young says.
Destined for a health career
Growing up in Bakersfield, Ward seemed destined to carve out a career in the health field: Her father was the Kern County medical examiner and her mother was a nurse.
Despite those parental influences, Ward studied political science as an undergraduate at Oberlin College and initially made her living as a magazine editor. Not until the 1970s did she try her hand at health care, as a home health aide in rural Connecticut.
Her supervisor, a public health nurse, inspired Ward to return to school and become a nurse, which she accomplished through a master's program at Yale University.
After working as a family nurse practitioner and geriatric nurse in public health clinics, Ward decided to advance her education and explore a related passion – health policy. With the help of a fellowship, she obtained a doctorate from Boston University. From there, Ward moved West to join the faculty at the University of Washington's School of Nursing, where she spent the past 20 years.
Ward's teaching, which focused on health policy, has won her numerous honors and awards.
"Understanding the unique health-care system in the U.S. is required for nurses and all health professionals," says Ward. "There is no way we can actually improve health for our populations if we can't understand how the system currently fails us, and what we can do to change it."
She also has earned a legacy as mentor to a host of impressive student work and research, including an educational video on caring for drug-affected newborns; new protocols for standardized evidence collection for forensic cases; and a project substantiating the need for nurses to address woeful rates of unassisted births and maternal mortality in Nigeria.
Though content in Seattle, Ward recalls feeling almost palpable elation when her longtime friend Young called to invite her to join what she calls a "fantastic team" at UC Davis.
"I had the most tremendous bodily reaction. The sun shone on me, a great weight lifted from my shoulders and I said, 'Yes, absolutely.'"
Ward's mother had been trying for years to woo her daughter and son-in-law back to California – sending Sunset magazine subscriptions to the couple while they lived in the snowy East and rainy Northwest – and now it would finally happen.
Once she arrived in Sacramento, Ward fully realized the enormity of the task at hand – creating a nursing school from scratch. Aside from winning UC Regents' approval in March, there was a curriculum to design; faculty and graduate students to recruit; partnerships to forge; a research program to create; and countless administrative hurdles to clear.
Ward looks forward to returning to her passion for teaching health politics and policy, but knows there is work to be done – establishing the school – before students arrive possibly by next fall.
"I have to wait a little while before we can start using Sacramento as a living laboratory in health policy – but what a rich resource our very location will be for our students."
In the meantime, there is a school to start.
"There are moments when I wish I were 10 years younger in the energy and memory-bank department," Ward says. "But being older has its advantages. I'm not afraid of much and I don't panic, and that can be helpful in an adventure like this."