Terri Gillespie, the new chief nursing executive officer and chief nursing officer at the University of Mississippi Medical Center adult hospitals, comes to the task of supervising 2,500 nurses with personal knowledge of what it means to stand in their shoes on the front lines of nursing.
“Terri has a unique combination of skills earned through her experience as a nurse and a leader,” said Kevin Cook, CEO of the University Hospital and Health System.
Gillespie has 31 years of nursing experience, most of it with UMMC where she has worked as a staff nurse in the adult emergency department, nurse manager in the surgical intensive care unit and post anesthesia care unit, clinical director of adult critical care, and operations director of the eICU, the first electronic intensive care unit in the state.
She will be moving to her new position Sept. 1 from her current position serving as chief nursing officer and clinical services officer with UMMC’s Batson Children’s Hospital. Gillespie will succeed Dr. Janet Harris, who will move to a full-time role as associate dean for practice and community engagement in the School of Nursing.
“I am thrilled to be able to pass the baton for nursing leadership to Terri,” Harris said. “I know that the nurses here at UMMC will be in very skilled and competent hands. Terri Gillespie is a perfect leader to move the organization through the changes coming in the healthcare economic environment. She is extremely bright and articulate, with excellent clinical experiences in her background. She is passionate about nurses and the patients that they care for.”
Gillespie expects the transition to supervising the largest employee group at the UMMC adult hospitals to be quite seamless in many respects due to her having worked in the adult hospital for a number of years.
“Obviously, the role as chief nursing executive for the system will have a much broader scope than my current position and that in and of itself will be challenging, but a challenge that I am excited about,” Gillespie said. “I do think that the looming changes in healthcare and the need for agility for an organization to not only meet the challenges, but thrive during this period, will be a huge undertaking. This is most definitely a challenge for all nursing administrators.
“There is such a laser focus on value by consumers and governmental organizations that it will call for diligent work on maximizing the workforce while providing high quality, error-free care and an exceptional customer experience. We aspire to high reliability. We continually challenge ourselves to be better tomorrow than we were today.”
Some areas that Gillespie has championed during her career include organ donor awareness, transplantation and end-of-life care. She has been active in the Donate-Transplant collaborative for many years.
“I can’t tell you the number of lives I have seen saved or changed through this program,” Gillespie said. “The life-saving component is pretty obvious, but the life-changing component is just as real. As for end-of-life care, that passion was fed by my numerous days as an ER and ICU nurse, as well as my personal experiences. I think that given death is a natural part of life that all patients should be afforded a dignified death, as much on their own terms as is possible.”
When Gillespie started out in nursing, she didn’t give much thought to the administrative side. But as she took opportunities that were presented, she found that there are many different roles that can help patients.
“It is no more or less impactful than the front line nursing,” she said. “It is just a different role.”
While nursing shortages are a concern in some areas of the country, UMMC has been able to do a good job of attracting nurses, Gillespie said. Now the challenge is to make the environment one that makes nurses want to stay.
“The retention of nurses is not a guarantee,” Gillespie said, who has been named one of the 50 Leading Business Women in Mississippi. “We are in a very competitive market. That is definitely something I will have to keep an eye on. We embrace shared governance as far as nursing decision-making. Front line nurses do definitely have a voice in decisions that are made that affect their work.”
As important as nursing is to her, Gillespie emphasizes that her family is the thing she considers the most precious in this life. She credits her husband, Michael, with being “the wind beneath my wings in all things.” They have four adult children, three boys and a girl, along with a daughter-in-law and son-in-law. Her family is rounded out with a 14-year-old Jack Russell, Sadie.
Gillespie got her B.S. degree in nursing from East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., and a M.S. degree in nursing-executive track from the UMMC School of Nursing. She is enrolled in the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at the School of Nursing.
Gillespie will be overseeing nursing at five of the UMMC’s systems six hospitals: University Hospital, the flagship adult hospital providing primary and specialty care and the state’s only Level 1 trauma center; the Wallace R. Conerly Critical Care Hospital, which offers specialized intensive care for medical, cardiac, surgical and neuroscience patients and houses the state’s only bone marrow transplant unit; the Winfred L. Wiser Hospital for Women and Infants, which provides OB-GYN services and advanced care for infants through the state’s only Level IV neonatal intensive care unit, plus the state’s only OB-GYN emergency room; the University of Mississippi Medical Center-Grenada; and Holmes County Hospital and Clinics.
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