Nurse Leader Spotlight: Q&A with Dr. Marc Woods

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Dr. Marc Woods is the Chief Nursing Officer for Eastern State Hospital and Nurse Leader of Eastern State Hospital as part of UK HealthCare’s management team. He completed his Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree in April 2022 and graduated May 6, 2022 where he was hooded by Dr. Zim Okoli. Dr. Woods focus was executive leadership where he completed research titled, “The Effect of a Web-based Training on Suicide Knowledge, Attitudes, and Health Access Behaviors of Behavioral Health Nurses Regarding Suicide Prevention.”

In 2013, Dr. Woods played an integral role in transitioning Eastern State Hospital from its old location to the current facility in Lexington. From that opportunity, he began providing more integrated behavioral health care for the Eastern State Hospital’s patients in partnership with UK HealthCare.

Dr. Woods has driven several quality-based initiatives throughout UK HealthCare, including suicide prevention strategies, special observations, and seclusion and restraint reduction efforts. He is passionate about his work because they directly improve the care and safety of both our staff and patients.

Dr. Woods notes, “Of all initiatives, the one I am most proud of is the seclusion and restraint work. After decades-long culture of heavy seclusion and restraint usage, we were able to reduce these rates to nationally-recognized low levels. It represents what we are capable of doing when we work together toward a common goal.”

Dr. Okoli, UK College of Nursing Professor and Executive Director of Behavioral Health Wellness Environments for Living and Learning (BH WELL) remarks, “Dr. Woods is a phenomenal advocate who has advanced psychiatric-mental health nursing at UK HealthCare through his leadership at Eastern State Hospital. He leads by example and his achievement in the Doctorate of Nursing Practice is such an important demonstration of his value for the advancement of nursing. I look forward to seeing the inspirational effect of his accomplishments translating to the mental and behavioral health nursing workforce among students, nursing staff, and faculty at UK HealthCare and the UK College of Nursing. Thank you, Dr. Woods, for who you are and all that you do through your exemplary leadership for mental and behavioral health nursing!”

Q: When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Oh! Probably everything under the planet except being a nurse. I wish I could say that I wanted to be a nurse my entire life. I played a lot of sports when I was young. So I wanted to be a baseball player, a basketball player, a professional wrestler. But my mom role-modeled caring for other human beings. It was under my nose my entire upbringing.

Q: How did you go from that to being where you are now?  ​

I never considered nursing until graduating high school. Then, I realized that I could change people’s lives and care for others by being a nurse. Mom wasn’t a nurse but we grew up in Eastern Kentucky and it wasn’t uncommon for her to bring neighbors and friends into our home who needed care and help. I thought, “Why can’t I do that?” So, I did.

Q: Is there a particular moment or memory from your nursing career that stands out to you? 

There are many but one moment stands out because it validated me and my career as a psychiatric nurse. I had cared for a gentleman who experienced about 10 hospital stays per year for about 2-3 years. I learned this had been the pattern of his care even before I had become a nurse. One day, I was able to meet with his mother. I thought she might be harsh or callous with me just because of his experiences living with a mental illness. But, it was actually the opposite. You would have thought I had given him the greatest gift ever. From my perspective, I had given him psychiatric nursing care, time, attention, and thoughtfulness. To her, I had given him opportunities to live and feel better. I felt SO appreciated by the mother that it solidified my entire career in the behavioral health field. Hundreds if not thousands of people had cared for her son over the years, but she specifically singled me out among a handful of people who had touched her son’s life, and therefore, her life, in a significant way. His mother was behind what became Tim’s law, which allows assisted outpatient treatment (AOT), an evidence-based treatment for serious mental illness, in lieu of a residential treatment facility or psychiatric hospital. You know, we don’t always see the “bright side” of psychiatric care during our day-to-day work. But in this instance, I received validation that changed the entire trajectory of my life’s work.

Q: How did BH WELL and Dr. Okoli's mentorship help support the completion of your DNP?

Without a shadow of a doubt, my relationships with Zim Okoli and Heather Robertson have resulted in a lot of support. Their support has guided us toward evidence-based practice that often stems from advanced education. I’m involved with many projects that require advanced learning. I kept coming back to doing what Dr. Okoli and BH WELL does, which is encouraging evidence-based practices and advanced learning. But, I didn’t have the advanced degrees that I was encouraging others to pursue. So, it pushed me to be a better role model for continued education by going back to school myself. I realized that the best way for me to influence other people was to be a role model. I just graduated with a Doctorate of Nursing Practice. Yes, this is while serving full-time as Chief Nurse Executive and with thanks to my wife and children for their support. Dr. Okoli and Ms. Robertson have provided support, encouragement and, most of all, affirmation of steps toward my own advanced education as we advanced evidence-based practice at work simultaneously.

Q: How do you define success in your career?  ​

If I can look back on the body of my work and be able to say that I left people encouraged, inspired, and motivated, and most of all, with improved conditions for all people living with a mental illness, that would be a success.

Q: What does being part of BH WELL mean to you?

It means so much to be a part of this amazing team of people who are bringing a much needed focus on “being well” and being healthy! I, at different points in my life, could have used the resources that BH WELL provides and I hope others will take advantage of this amazing resource.

Q: What do you think other people should know about nurse leadership?

As daunting as some of the obstacles and changes may be (such as staffing and resource challenges), the rewards of nurse leadership, when they come, are far greater. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing front-line nurses fulfilled by their nursing practice and the gratefulness they feel having opportunities to touch patients’ lives. Nursing, psychiatric nursing, in particular, is ever-changing and evolving. Nurse leaders serve as a voice for needs and changes so that front-line nurses can focus on patient care while knowing the necessary resources are available or are coming. I fear that many great nurse leaders may avoid going into leadership for fear of the never-ending resource challenges. So to all of the many potential nurse leaders, I ask, “If not you, who?”

Q: If you had a 3-day weekend, how would you spend it?

I would spend it in solitude with a book of fiction.

News contributor: Kylie Pemberton