Lutheran North News

Dr. Michael Ward's (LN '74) remarkable career merits not one but two awards for Lifetime Achievement in Health Care

Dr. Michael Ward's remarkable career merits not one but two awards for Lifetime Achievement in Health Care: for his work in radiology and nursing education.

He recently retired after 48 years of service with BJC HealthCare. Twenty-three of those years were devoted to the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and the last 25 years were dedicated to Barnes-Jewish College in various leadership roles - most notably, as the Vice Dean for Student Affairs and Diversity & Professor for Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College. 

Though a lifer at BJC, which is affiliated with Washington University, he was educated at two other local universities. He received his bachelor’s degree in radiologic science from St. Louis University, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. He also holds a Master’s degree in Educational Administration from the University of Missouri – St. Louis and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Higher Education Administration from Saint Louis University. 

The St. Louis American spoke with Dr. Ward about his illustrious careers, his voluminous board commitments, his educational arc, his home city's treasures, and troubles, and what he plans to do with his well-earned retirement. 

The St. Louis American: As Vice Dean for Student Affairs and Diversity & Professor at Goldfarb School of Nursing, what programs or systems did you put in place to diversify faculty and students? 

Dr. Michael Ward: The Vice Dean for Student Affairs and Diversity placed me on the Executive Cabinet of the college. In this position, it was important to concentrate on the needs of the students as the focal point. Most of them have entered nursing pursuing a dream to help others and to serve the community. A significant percentage of those students are first generation and have put their family lives and income on hold while going to college to complete their nursing degree. 

The Student Affairs departments and team members worked to support the needs of students by creating scholarship programs that were aimed at supporting diverse students (based on financial need, minority status, males, since nursing is predominantly female) and merit based with clear and unbiased criteria. We created a Mentor program that paired entering undergraduate and graduate students with seasoned staff nurses or nurse leaders who could guide them through the early stages of their program of study. These relationships provided a means of connecting with someone who was working in the field and could share common experiences that reinforced their common passion for nursing. 

I worked very closely with the creation and promotion of the Emergency Compassion Fund, in collaboration with the BJH Foundation, to financially support students who had financial emergencies (loss of job - especially during the 2.5 years of COVID) and family emergencies (house flooding, fires, illness, etc.) that would impact the student's ability to either attend school or could have sidetracked their progression. These emergency funds were there to see the student over that hurdle and to continue attending school. While at the college, I was pleased that we provided over $400,000 worth of financial support for students in need and beamed with pride when seeing them cross the stage at graduation, knowing the struggles that they were able to overcome. 

The college also implemented a Strategic Plan called the "Path to Distinction" where I strongly pushed and supported the needs of students and the focus on diversity, equity and inclusion as a foundation and thread across the entire strategic plan.  

The St. Louis American: What progress can you show?

Dr. Michael Ward: New positions were created within the Student Affairs division that were designed to support student advisement, career opportunities, student engagement, financial aid literacy and mentoring programs. We partnered with external partners (high school counselors, science teachers, Girls Inc., Boys Hope/Girls Hope and other agencies) to expose more individuals to the vast opportunities available in the nursing field. This aided the college to expand the numbers of minority students (including males) entering the undergraduate and graduate programs. 

Once students applied, they were paired with an Admissions Advisor and Financial Aid Counselor who became their central point of contact and guided them through the admission and financial aid application processes. Once enrolled, every student was assigned an Academic & Student Support Advisor who supported them through their academic progression. 

There was additional progress demonstrated through student-focused policies, student support organizations that provided ways to engage with other students and the community, along with opportunities to serve on college faculty and staff committees, serve as members of the Strategic Plan Committee, participate in updates to the Board of Trustees of the college and the Alumni Advisory Council.

The St. Louis American: Your education was from SLU and UMSL, but your professional affiliations were with WashU/BJC. Why is that?

Dr. Michael Ward: Straight out of high school, I entered the Radiologic Technology program offered by Washington University through Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology. After completing this two-year, hospital-based program, I successfully passed my board exam and continued working for the Department of Radiology for 23 years (serving in various teaching and leadership positions), while completing my higher education on a part-time basis. 

I achieved my BS degree from Saint Louis University in Radiologic Sciences (with a minor in education), completed a Master in Education degree program majoring in Educational Administration and finally went back to SLU to complete a PhD in Higher Education Administration. Once I completed my PhD, I made a career shift into a higher-education administration role at what eventually became Barnes-Jewish College, where I had worked for the next 25 years of my career prior to retiring at the end of 2022.

The St. Louis American: You have had extensive board commitments with professional organizations. Why is so much effort put into that work? What did you get out of it? What contributions did you make?

Dr. Michael Ward: I have always had a desire to get involved with leadership positions in my work life, church life and professional life. I was very fortunate to have people in my life who saw something in me that demonstrated an ability to contribute in a leadership capacity. So, with my desire and their encouragement, I pursued committee work and later put my name forward for elected positions. Once I found out how much satisfaction and joy came with serving in these roles could bring, I was hooked!

I obtained the opportunity to influence policies, elevate practice standards, improve educational standards, represent the radiologic sciences at the local, state, national and international level and meet so many colleagues and professionals that I now consider friends. I was able to build bridges across the radiologic sciences that took me across the world, work with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the World Health Organization, and national associations that represented Asia, Australasia, Europe, North and South America and Africa.

At the time of becoming the 96th Fellow of the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) in 1988, I was one of youngest in my profession to achieve this professional honor. In 1999, I was the second African American elected to become the 97th President of the ASRT. In the over 100-year history of the ASRT only 40 individuals have been honored with Life Membership. In 2011, I was recognized as the 23rd member of ASRT to achieve their highest honor.

The International Society of Radiographers and Radiologic Technologists represents the interest of radiology professionals across the entire globe. I served on the 90-member council representing the United States for over 10 years before eventually being elected as the first American to serve as President (a four-year elected position).

The St. Louis American: They say you are "retired." What does retirement look like for someone as active as you? What work are you still doing? What new projects have you been able to pursue?

Dr. Michael Ward: I have only recently retired and still believe that I am new at not feeling like I have to be rushing from one thing to the next. It only took me a few weeks to get used to a slower pace, and I have enjoyed the gift of having time to do things that are not constrained by schedules and limited time.

I am still very active in church. I attend St. James AME Church and serve as Pro-Tem of the Board of Stewards. I am on the Advisory Board for the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience, where I serve on the Executive Committee and chair the Committee on Nominations and Governance. I'm active with the St. Louis Community College where I am the Chairman of the Advisory Committee for the Radiologic Technology Program.

I am spending more time going to the movies, the symphony, the gym and meeting friends for lunch or dinner without having to rush. 

The St. Louis American: Elevator pitches to a promising young Black student: Why should they go into radiology? Why should they be nurses?

Dr. Michael Ward: The health professions are experiencing increased need for those who are called to serve patients and their families. Radiology offers a wide range of opportunities for those who would enjoy working with advanced technology (digital imaging, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, nuclear medicine, and radiation therapy) to take images or to be used for treating cancer and other diseases. Many in the radiologic sciences enjoy working in senior leadership roles, teaching, research, and equipment sales.

Nursing offers those who are called into healthcare to provide patient care support for those who are in need at their most vulnerable times. Nurses can be at the bedside, in the operating room, in the emergency room, in the ICU, in higher education, in leadership roles and involved in industry - pharmaceutical, research, insurance coding, sales, home care, just to name a few. 

Specifically, for young Black students: never let anyone convince you that you are not able to accomplish your dreams. Always set your goals so that you have to stretch yourself a little bit more each time you accomplish each step. Find yourself a mentor and a supporter who keeps telling you that you can make it. Stay focused, and don't give up.

The St. Louis American: Guidance you have for addressing one of the St. Louis region's many chronic problems: who needs to do what and how? 

Dr. Michael Ward: This is such a big question. Probably the first thing to do is to pay attention to the things happening in your immediate community and take steps to positively impact your own family and neighborhood. By all means vote in every election after doing your research on the people running or the initiatives on the ballot.

The St. Louis American: Tell me about a teacher who put you on the right path. 

Dr. Michael Ward: My 8th grade elementary school teacher at Scullin School, Mrs. Mayo, was an excellent teacher who was no nonsense, a superb teacher and role model. She provided the right mixture of caring for her students and encouragement to succeed.

The St. Louis American: Tell me about someone who mentored you in the workplace.

Dr. Michael Ward: Mr. Armand Diaz was the Director of the Department of Radiology at Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology. He was very direct and tough in the way that he managed the department but was someone who took me under his wing when I expressed an interest in knowing how he succeeded in his career and became a Fellow of the ASRT. I think that because I was genuine about learning more about the profession and how to advance in the profession, he took the time to support and encourage me. He eventually became my sponsor when I was elevated to Fellow in 1988.

The St. Louis American: Tell me about a student whom you helped to succeed.

Dr. Michael Ward: There have been many students over the years that I have had the pleasure of teaching and working with. Those who stand out the most are the ones that others had given up on or told that they weren't going to make it. I've seen dozens of success stories from those very students that were told "no" or "this isn't for you"! 

The St. Louis American: Comfort music?

Dr. Michael Ward: Classical, soft jazz, hymns, and spirituals. 

The St. Louis American: Comfort food?

Dr. Michael Ward: Oreo cookies, Starbucks chai tea lattes - no water, no foam, add whipped cream. Butter pecan ice cream!

The St. Louis American: Guilty pleasure?

Dr. Michael Ward: Netflix and Disney+ movies.

The St. Louis American: Next anticipated vacations? 

Dr. Michael Ward: A Mediterranean cruise and short trips to visit friends and family in Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, and Texas. 

The St. Louis American: Hidden treasures in the St. Louis metro area? 

Dr. Michael Ward: Powell Hall, St. Louis Art Museum in Forest Park.

Tickets for The St. Louis American Foundation's Salute to Excellence in Health Care Awards Reception on Thursday, June 22, 2023, at Hilton St. Louis Frontenac, 5:30-8 p.m. may be purchased here.