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Goldfarb School of Nursing News

Dr. Michael Ward: Leaving the Bow Tie Behind for a New Life Chapter

  • 28 December 2022
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Dr. Michael Ward: Leaving the Bow Tie Behind for a New Life Chapter

Humble. Funny. Positive. Warm. Those are just some of the fond words colleagues use to describe Michael Ward, PhD, RTR, FASRT, vice dean of student affairs and diversity for Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College.

"I call him a king among people," says Angie Wade, director of communications and marketing at the college. Her team reports to Dr. Ward. "He's very humble so people don't always see how much he has done in so many people's lives, including our students and the people who work alongside him. He's also a very funny person. We tease each other all the time."

Wade and other Goldfarb team members say they will miss these qualities, along with his positive leadership style, strategic planning skills and signature bow tie as Dr. Ward retires from the college at the end of 2022.


Destined for Success

Although Dr. Ward started his career as a radiologic technologist, his pathway to academic leadership at Goldfarb seemed to be destiny.

As a teenage president of the Honor Society at Lutheran North High School in St. Louis, Dr. Ward was stocking pamphlets in the high school's career center when one about the radiologic technology program at Washington University caught his attention. The career description fascinated him and made him reconsider his lifelong plan to become a high school English teacher.

"In the 1970s, there was a glut of teachers and I realized I was attracted to the sciences," he says. "The more I read about radiologic technology, the more interested I became. My interest in teaching fizzled as my interest in radiologic technology took off."

After her graduated magna cum laude from high school in 1974, he enrolled full-time in the two-year, hospital-based program at Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at the former Barnes Hospital (now Barnes-Jewish Hospital).

This was his first step to a long, illustrious career filled with twists and turns that ultimately led him to Goldfarb. Through his journey, he was always tied to the hospital and Washington University. 

"I've spent the last 48 years connected to this medical center," Dr. Ward says. 

During this time, he witnessed the birth of BJC HealthCare in 1993, the hospital merger that created Barnes-Jewish Hospital in 1996, and the opening of Goldfarb School of Nursing in 2007.

After graduation from Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, Dr. Ward combined his work as a radiologic technologist with his early interest in teaching when he was appointed clinical instructor in the radiology/X-ray technology program. Next, he was promoted to senior staff technologist and clinical instructor for the general diagnostics floor of Mallinckrodt Institute.

As a young radiologic technologist, he was required was a shirt and tie. So he combined his affinity for being a sharp, professional dresser with practicality. "The long ties were always getting in the way when we were working with patients so for practical purposes I started to wear bow ties," Dr. Ward says. "Then I noticed no one else was wearing them so bow ties became my signature style. It stuck and I've been wearing them for 35 years."


Continued Education Broadened His Career Path

While working—with his snappy bow tie secured—he also went back to school part-time at Saint Louis University and earned his bachelor's degree in radiologic sciences. This led to him becoming the assistant program director for Mallinckrodt's radiology school.

Taking another step forward, he finished his master's degree in Education Administration from University of Missouri–St. Louis in 1987. He was then promoted to chief technologist for quality assurance and director of technical education for the Department of Radiology.

He soon found himself as a student once again. "A former school friend and study partner convinced me to join her in pursuing a doctorate degree," Dr. Ward says. "It didn't take much for me to say 'Ok, let's do it.'"

In 1995, Dr. Ward earned his PhD in Higher Education Administration from Saint Louis University.

"I needed to make a pivotal career decision." he says. "There was nowhere to go in radiology with a PhD. My career choice was to stay in health care with a focus on higher education or jump into the next thing."

His timing was perfect. At the time of this decision, the former Jewish College of Nursing and Allied Health was looking for someone to lead the Allied Health program. The X-ray and Radiologic Technology programs were part of that.

"My radiation background and a fresh PhD made me a viable candidate for that role and I was selected to be the director of the Allied Health program," Dr. Ward says. "That grew into 11 degree offerings."

In 1998, he became dean of Allied Health for Jewish College of Nursing and Allied Health and held that position until 2007 when he again rolled with the ongoing changes in health care.


Finding His Place to Belong and Lead

As hospitals merged, so did the affiliated nursing schools to create Barnes-Jewish College of Nursing and Allied Health. Leaders soon reassessed the school's mission and future. They decided to focus on becoming a top nursing school and transitioned out of Allied Health. Those programs moved to other local colleges.

"Without an Allied Health program, my deanship ended; however, I stayed with the college on contract while the program transitioned," Dr. Ward explains.

He also took a new position at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park as dean of biological and health sciences. A year and a half later, he left for an opportunity at Saint Louis University as assistant dean for student affairs and administration.

But Dr. Ward's connection to Barnes-Jewish College remained strong. He was still working with the college under contract when Dr. Michael Evans, the college's dean from 2006-2012, presented him with a new opportunity.

It was a position as associate dean for student programs. "He told me this position was just right for me," Dr. Ward says.

He accepted that position in 2008 soon after the college opened its doors as Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College and has been serving nursing students ever since.

"When I walked into the new building, I felt like I belonged and felt so welcomed," he says. "There was great interest in my ability and experience to help grow the support side of the college, including administration, financial aid, registration and student services. In addition to growing those areas, my role was to develop, strengthen and build teams for those departments. When given a free hand to do that, I felt a part of something big, new and interesting. I was grateful for the opportunity."

When Goldfarb ushered in a new era of nursing education in the St. Louis area, Dr. Ward was on the ground floor to shape and mold the future.

"The faculty was eager and focused on the great opportunity ahead as a school," he says. "The school was bubbly with anticipation, excitement and growth."

Early in his leadership at Goldfarb, he added new positions to the college including a full-time registrar, a director of student services, and a director of enrollment management over admissions and financial aid. He also brought the alumni affairs position to the college, as well as a director of marketing and communications.

"With these leaders in place, I'm able to function more as a leader of leaders," Dr. Ward says. "On the executive team, I'm more involved in strategy with a focus on growth and moving the college into the future."

He says he was drawn to Goldfarb and has remained at the college because he felt he was contributing to a greater purpose. "We've graduated a lot of wonderful students who are doing great things in the system, the community, and beyond. We're focused on improving the community and it's fulfilling to be part of that. I've also met a lot of wonderful colleagues here."


Elevating Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

During his tenure at Goldfarb over the past 14 years, the number and variety of degree offerings have multiplied. The MSN program expanded, and, at one time, the college offered a combined DNP and PhD program.

Dr. Ward taught the first required course in the program called the Fundamentals of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

In 2013, Dr. Ward's title changed to vice dean for student affairs and diversity. Beyond just adding "diversity" to his title, he was charged with taking the lead for diversity initiatives for the college.

Under Dr. Ward's leadership, the entire staff has received diversity training and the school has created a diversity committee and a diversity task force. Dr. Ward is also a member of the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Diversity Council to represent the college and be a liaison between the hospital and college.

He is most proud of all the work done in diversity, although he says there is still room for improvement. "We now have a diversity statement embedded into the fabric of the college. I'm also proud that a broad group of students, staff, faculty and administration were all involved in creating the statement. However, the work for diversity, equity and inclusion doesn't end because we have a wonderful statement. Now what are we going to do in that area? What does the college aspire to be?"

He says the world we live in greatly impacts the world we work in. "All the ills of society rest within the college environment—we bring our own stuff here. We must build a welcoming culture where differences are celebrated not just tolerated."

He also emphasizes the need for representation across every area of Goldfarb. "We should feel the void and always ask what input, concepts and feedback are not present to achieve the excellence we're striving for. That's where we'll be able to make some exceptional headway. What will make Goldfarb stand out from other colleges is how we address making it a place everyone wants to go, with everyone running to work here because we make it a priority to make people feel like they're part of something great—where you're recognized for your talents, your brain and your heart."


A Legacy of Accomplishments

Dr. Ward's diligence, experience, accomplishments and commitment to students have been widely recognized both inside and outside the college.

During the transition between the former college president, Nancy Ridenour, PhD, RN, APRN, FAAN, and the new president, Angela Clark, PhD, RN, MSN, CNE, FAAN, Dr. Ward was tapped to lead the continuing work on the college's new strategic plan, the Pathway to Distinction.

"I'm proud to have helped with the strategic plan," he says. "I feel like I had a master's class in strategic planning. This shows you don't stop learning after you get your degrees."

He says diversity is embedded into the three goals of the strategic plan. "I'm proud of being part of elevating diversity from a title to a broader effort more relevant to the times," he says.

In addition, Dr. Ward has been deeply involved in several other major initiatives including serving on the leadership team for Goldfarb's reaccreditation efforts over the years.

He has shared his leadership on a national scale. In December, as he retires from Goldfarb, he also will end his eighth year as the public representative board member for the American Nursing Credentialing Center (ANCC), which is part of the American Nurses Association (ANA).

In October 2022, Dr. Ward was presented The Margretta Madden Styles Presidents Award by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). This is their highest honor and recognizes exceptional leaders who have partnered with the ANCC president to advance the mission, vision, and strategic goals of the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

Because of his involvement and exceptional reputation among national colleagues, Dr. Ward developed a strong friendship with the current ANA president, Ernest Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN, that ultimately benefited the entire Goldfarb community.

"I pulled the 'friendship card' and asked him to be a speaker for our summer commencement and he willingly agreed," Dr. Ward says. "While he was here, we worked to expand the use of his time on campus. He was a speaker at many different venues for BJC HealthCare and was very well received everywhere he went."


Leading By Example

Dr. Ward's warmth, sense of humor, and calm demeanor has led to deep loyalty and respect from his colleagues.

"The culture I have attempted to build throughout my career is not to rule over people, but to make them feel their input matters," he says. "The way I lead is by building relationships, still getting work done but with buy-in, not in a punitive, strict style. You don't have to make people feel bad to motivate them. I would rather lead with humility and by example versus lashing out or writing people up. At the same time, I'm not a pushover. I'm observant and intuitive."

He continues: "It's easier to lean into positivity and joy than frowns and negativity. Negativity can cause you to lose hope and people don't want to be in that atmosphere."

Each Goldfarb dean or president Dr. Ward has worked with has inspired him and taught him leadership lessons. " Dr. Michael Evans, Dr. Michael Bleich and Dr. Nancy Ridenour each looked at me and said 'I see something in you we can use to make the college better and stronger.'"

He adds that he is sorry he won't have more time to see Dr. Clark lead. "Dr. Clark has been generous in supporting me and recognizes there's a possibility for a greater future for the college because I was here. She's building a dynamic new team backed by the strategic plan and BJC support. I feel like I'm leaving at a good time for the next person to explode this role and take it to the next level with new initiatives and ideas."

Dr. Ward is a firm believer in the bible verse that says for everything, there's a season. That guidance led him to decide it was his time to retire.


Finding the New Michael

Despite all his achievements, Dr. Ward says he will miss the people at Goldfarb most. "I have a very small family so my work friends have become my family. I will miss my daily interactions with them and the routine of a work week—but I won't miss thinking about work 24/7."

As he looks at retirement, he is stepping into unfamiliar territory.

"I'm a planner and list maker," he says. "This is the first time in my life I don't have the next step absolutely plotted out. But I'm stepping out into space with great expectations. I'm not stopping life but living life. I've been in a professional life so long and now I want to find the new Michael."

Consulting and speaking engagements are likely in his future. "I still want to contribute and have meaning in my life," he says. "I plan to do more work with my church, do some volunteerism, take a few cruises, and read for pleasure—something I haven't done in years."

He also looks forward to long walks in nature and playing with his three beloved dogs.

Reflecting on his career, he says it's the memories and feelings that will be lasting.

"When I see graduates crossing the stage, knowing their real story of challenges they faced personally, financially or academically, and knowing I had in some way positively impacted their life, and that they, in turn, will impact the lives of other family and friends—that's what matters. It's more of the legacy I hope I'm leaving rather than the plaques and awards.

"I hope someday someone will remember the guy who wore bowties and said something that made a difference."

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