RWJF Fellow Named First Chair for Nursing at Boston Children’s Hospital

    • May 17, 2014

Among the portraits of former physician chiefs hanging on the walls of the boardroom at Boston Children’s Hospital, two stand out. Both are portraits of women, and both are nurses.  The legacy of leadership provided by these two renowned pediatric nurse leaders gives comfort to Laura J. Wood, DNP, MS, RN, the hospital’s highest-ranking nurse and its first chair for nursing.

Wood joined the organization in May, 2013, as senior vice president of patient care services and as chief nursing officer. In this capacity, she leads nursing and inter-professional clinical practice, research, and education in service to more than 3,000 nurses, clinicians, and support team members at Boston Children’s Hospital—one of the nation’s foremost independent pediatric hospitals and a leading center of pediatric health research.

When Wood takes a seat at the boardroom’s expansive, dark wooden table, she looks up at this portrait gallery and sees the visages of Anne S. Black, RN, MSN, and Eileen M. Sporing, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, the hospital’s two chief nursing officers. She also knows that, thanks to her predecessors and supportive organizational leaders and trustees, she has a respected voice in important discussions and decisions. Wood uses her influence to advocate for children and families; lead the discipline of nursing and interprofessional practice; and advance her commitment to improve the process of care delivery by expanding access, quality, and value. 

“Symbolically, the portraits are quite a statement,” says Wood, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Executive Nurse Fellow (2012-2015). “Only the clinical chiefs are displayed in the boardroom. In our organization, the surgeon-in-chief, physician-in-chief, and nurse-in-chief are regarded as accountable peers. They guide clinical quality and operational initiatives while leading their respective disciplines. It is humbling to serve in an organization with a history of strong leaders and one that has an established framework that recognizes both physicians and nurses as essential senior leaders.”  

Black served for a decade and Sporing for nearly a quarter of a century as the practice leaders of nursing and patient care operations at Boston Children’s Hospital. Each served much longer than the three-to-four-year tenure held by the typical chief nursing officer nationally. “This kind of sustained and effective nursing leadership within Boston Children’s Hospital has provided an important foundation to nurture innovations in nursing science, professional advancement models, and pediatric nursing and interprofessional care delivery,” Wood notes.

Nurses’ Contribution on Boards

Both Black and Sporing participated as members of the hospital’s board of trustees nearly 30 years ago. For the past seven years, this position has included full voting participation. Their contributions to pediatric nursing, health, and health care are widely appreciated within nursing, Wood says—and now she serves as a full voting member of the board of trustees and on numerous subcommittees.

Only about 6 percent of hospital board members in this country are nurses. Wood sees tremendous value in having a nurse on the Boston Children’s Hospital board. “It is important to contribute to board discussions from the perspective of a nurse leader who can provide the voice of caregivers with the most direct proximity to patient and family needs, and who is equally able to contribute strategic business and operational insights.”

The Sporing Carpenter Chair for Nursing—the first endowed chair committed to nursing and interprofessional practice at Boston Children’s Hospital—was established in 2013 through the generosity of Sporing, a bequest from Martha MacDowell Carpenter, and designated funds from the Boston Children’s Board of Trustees. The funds will support educational opportunities, clinical inquiry and research initiatives, and innovation grants to advance the work of front-line nurses and clinicians. 

The chair provides support for nursing and interprofessional education, inquiry and research, and establishes Boston Children’s as one of a small but growing number of organizations that have made similar commitments. Nearly 30 years ago, Wood was a “direct beneficiary” of Sporing’s commitment to the development of nurse leaders when Sporing was Wood’s direct manager at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. It is a “great honor” to hold a chair appointment named in Sporing’s honor and an “important opportunity” to advance the science of pediatric nursing, Wood says.

Wood also noted that the iconic logo of Boston Children’s Hospital depicts a nurse holding a young child. “It is the essential intersection of scientific innovation and caring practices that drew me to pursue a career as a pediatric nurse,” she said. “My experience as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Executive Fellow reignited my commitment to contribute to the transformation of health through pediatric nursing. I believe we have a responsibility and opportunity to impact population health and health outcomes in a profound way through the lives of children and families we touch.”  

The daughter of a nurse (Jean Lyon Wood, RN), Wood seemed destined to follow in her mother’s footsteps ever since she was a child. At age 5, she underwent a substantial surgical procedure followed by an extended hospitalization in a children’s hospital. She recalls remaining hopeful and resilient thanks to the nurses and her mother, who took the then-unusual step of rooming-in with her daughter. Wood experienced the value of sensitive and effective pediatric nursing from the child and family’s perspective again when her own infant son, now a healthy adult, was diagnosed with a condition that required ongoing multi-specialty care at a children’s hospital.

Wood went on to become a pediatric nurse herself, pursuing nursing leadership roles at The Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and, most recently, Boston Children’s Hospital. Along the way, she also led operations improvement initiatives at The University of Pennsylvania Health System and later directed the U.S.-based clinical consulting and information technology business segments of Siemens Healthcare.  

“With privilege comes responsibility,” says Wood, the first to hold the Sporing Carpenter chair for nursing. Nurses are increasingly at leadership tables, contributing perspectives on quality, access, effective care, and cost management. In addition to these traditional responsibilities, Wood is committed to developing nurses as philanthropists who are prepared to identify new sources of funding directed specifically to leadership and professional development of nurses.

Nurses have an historic opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the field by guiding nurse-led and nursing-directed philanthropy, Wood says. “The Boston Children’s Hospital Sporing Carpenter Chair in Nursing establishes the first-of-its-kind opportunity for pediatric nurses and interprofessional team members in our organization to benefit from a new source of philanthropy.  We have a critical opportunity to elevate nurses and nursing given our essential understanding and role in guiding child and family-centered practices within the profession of nursing.”