Mary Dee Hacker has spent her decades-long career empowering nurses to make clinical decisions and find better ways to deliver care to children.

Starting as a staff nurse at the Children's Hospital Los Angeles in 1975, she has risen through the ranks to her current role as vice president of nursing and interprofessional research.
Throughout her career, Hacker, 65, launched several initiatives tied to research and education that have transformed and strengthened not only the nursing workforce at CHLA, but also at hospitals across the U.S.

In 1999, she spearheaded the creation of a rigorous 22-week residency program for nurses coming to the hospital straight from school with a goal of reducing the turnover rate CHLA was experiencing with new nurses. The program mixed teaching with actual clinical experience to instill confidence and competence in the new nurses.

“Because of the rigor in their transition from student nurses to clinicians, they progress not only clinically, but as teachers, researchers and leaders,” Hacker said.
The residency program helped reduce the 24-month turnover rate of new graduate nurses to 8.9% from as high as 56% in the years before. It also led to the launch of the Versant RN Residency, which is used by hospitals across the nation.

Hacker has consistently supported a hospital environment that allows front-line nurses to make key decisions affecting clinical practice and care. The hospital has provided incentives and tuition assistance for nurses to achieve advanced degrees—a benefit that has kept staff satisfied and challenged.

“My commitment to excellent clinical care is dependent on having a well-educated workforce,” she said. “The more we do to invest in the knowledge of the pros in the workforce, the better the care will be of those we serve.”

Hacker now is heading up the hospital's Institute for Nursing and Interprofessional Research, which provides funding for nurses to do research and find solutions to problems in care delivery.

“We have a culture across all disciplines of really wanting to question why we do things a certain way, and ask 'is there a better way to do this?' With the launch of the Institute, the hospital will be investing funds for bedside clinicians to ask the questions and be supported in their research rigor to find better ways of delivering care,” she said. —Shelby Livingston