Getting to know the new CEO: clinician, leader, gardener

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“Some of my best thoughts have been solidified when I’m weeding my carrots,” Dr. Krista Jangaard, recently appointed President & CEO of IWK Health Centre says.

An avid gardener, Jangaard says it’s not just a hobby, but has taught her some valuable life lessons as well. “Mother nature works when she wants to. I can do exactly the same thing one year to the next; one year can be a complete success and the next, a complete failure. This is a reminder that I can’t control everything and that has taught me a lot about patience and humility.”

Jangaard, born in Riverview, New Brunswick, moved to Halifax at the age of 18 to pursue her science degree. Upon graduating, she went on to Dalhousie Medical School, a pediatric residency, and then began a three year fellowship at the IWK. Jangaard joined the IWK as staff in 1996 and has been with the organization ever since. She also completed her Masters in Health Administration. During all of this, she and her husband had two children of their own, Kirsti and Thomas. Her face lights up as she speaks of them.

“Kirsti is a nurse in birth unit, but also an accomplished musician and artist. She has a heart of gold and is a joy to be around, but her brain never stops and she’s hard to keep up with,” Jangaard laughs as she acknowledges she might get this trait from her mother.

“Thomas works in Whistler in the hospitality industry, and loves skiing and hiking and watching sports of all kinds,” Jangaard says. “He loves statistics and can rhyme them off easily.”

Jangaard is forthright in the fact that was fortunate to have a wonderful childhood and youth, and professional career with family, friends, and mentors that that have been incredibly supportive. She highlights four, all IWK based, who have had a significant impact on her clinical and leadership career; Drs. Alec Allen, Eli Rees, Dora Stinson, and Doug MacMillan.

“Dr. Allen, a stalwart neonatologist, was a visionary man. He was a completely considerate and supportive person whom I could always count on; a man of huge integrity. Dr. Rees taught me to think outside the box. Dr. Stinson is the most humble person I’ve ever met in my life and if I can care about people even half as much as she does on a daily basis, I will have gotten somewhere. And Dr. MacMillan really focused me on what my responsibilities in leadership should look like,” Jangaard says. “Leadership is not for yourself, but for those you serve.”

Jangaard describes her gradual transition from positions that were more clinical-focused to those with more of an administrative focus. From the early days of her career as a neonatologist, she was interested in how the health care system works to support direct bedside care. This prompted her to take a role with Reproductive Care Program of Nova Scotia, in which she started to see all of the other ways impacts could be made, not only at the bedside, but throughout programs with more of a business perspective of how to get things accomplished. Over her 22 years with the IWK, Jangaard has held the positions of associate director of neonatology, which also made her medical director of the unit, division head, the president of medical staff, and the chair of the Medical Advisory Board.

Jangaard was heavily involved in the redevelopment of the new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), joking that if she had gone in another career path, she would have chosen architecture. Jangaard said. “I was in my glory with the floor plans, blueprints and measurements.”

The position of Vice President Academic then became available. Although this was earlier than Jangaard had anticipated leaving NICU, upon thoughtful reflection, she decided to throw her hat in the ring. “It was really a combination of things that lead me to apply; I knew that the unit was going to be built and the people we had in place were excellent. It was time for me to get out of their way and to support them to develop like I was supported,” Jangaard says. “I also knew this position would probably not come up for another five to ten years. During my tenure I learned a lot and achieved things I am proud of, including attracting and retaining new talent to the IWK.”

Jangaard stepped in to the role of interim President and CEO in the fall of 2017, and was the successful applicant of a nationwide search for the permanent position in October 2018. During the past year, she has given significant thought to what makes the IWK great and how it can be even better.

“I feel incredibly privileged to be in the position that I am for an organization that I care about deeply. At our AGM this past year, we talked about what it takes for the IWK to be successful and that discussion is one I hold dear to my heart. As we go forward, our purpose must be at the forefront of all we do – caring for women and children across the Maritimes and doing that to the absolute best of our abilities,” Jangaard says.

Listening and engagement are the main tenants of Jangaard’s leadership vision for the IWK.

“One of the things that makes the IWK so great is the people that work here. The staff, physicians and volunteers here genuinely concern themselves with the well-being of people. We care about what happens to patient and families even past the direct care encounter. I think the way forward is to tap into the knowledge and experience these groups have,” Jangaard says. “To really engage with and listen to how they want to interact with leadership with the goal of doing even better by our patients and families. And throughout all this, we need to support our staff and support each other because we cannot care for our patients and families if we don’t care for ourselves, as well.”

Supporting staff and developing talent is another of Jangaard’s leadership objectives.

“We need to think about how we support and develop our people inside the organization, in all areas of the IWK. Eventually, I want to be in the same place as I was when I decided to leave the NICU, getting out of the way and supporting the opportunities for others,” Jangaard says. “My whole goal should be to put myself out of business so someone new can take my spot. And that should be each of our goals in leadership.”

Jangaard acknowledges that the intersection of the IWK’s strength of tradition and opportunity for change can sometimes seem like they are in opposition to each other. She is focused on leveraging the IWK’s values and strengths to implement change, even though it might be difficult.

“We’re not perfect, and there are days when we know we can improve. Our patients and families tell us and we always strive to get better. It is crucial to remember that our community trusts us to care for women and children and we are grateful for that ongoing support,” Jangaard says. “I truly believe the people in this organization come to work because they want to make a difference. And if we focus on that, we will get to the right decisions.”

Jangaard says that her leadership decisions will always go back to the questions at the core of her being: the IWK’s purpose – who and what are we here for and what are we trying to do?

“It’s important to remember that not everyone who comes to the IWK is necessarily here for a happy reason. Sometimes it’s the most horrific thing a family can go through which is the loss of a loved one,” Jangaard says. “No one deserves that. It’s stressful and sad for all involved and we need to provide the best clinical care with empathy and compassion. For patients and families, and for each other.”

Jangaard shares that she lost her nephew when he was four years old due to a brain tumour, but the experience was made less painful by the wonderful team in palliative care. Like many in the organization, she’s lived the vicarious stress of the pain of others, but has made it through with the support of friends, families and understanding colleagues.

“Some of the nicest letters and thank you notes I’ve received throughout my career have been from families that have been helped through the most difficult times in their lives,” Jangaard says. “Life has been very good to me. I am incredibly fortunate and never, ever, ever take that for granted.”

She’s most grateful for her family’s property in Musquodoboit Harbour, where she rests and recharges sitting in her screened in porch, reading true crime thrillers or watching the sun set over the ocean, or going out in their little wooden skiff with family and friends. But her go-to will always be gardening.

“To think,” she laughs. “I didn’t even know I was interested in gardening until my father-in-law gave me half the space in his garden to plant things. That’s when I knew I had really made it into the family.”