Rita K. Haxton (M.S. ’87), vice president of oncology, inpatient surgical services and women’s and children’s health for Baylor University Medical Center, has spent more than 20 years of her career in executive leadership positions focused on nursing leadership and improving patient care.
Since joining Baylor Scott and White Health System in 2015, Haxton has had the opportunity to serve as a leader in the first uterine transplant research project resulting ina successful live birth in the U.S., as well as be involved in several innovative cancer and transplant research studies. For more than 15 years, she served as vice president of patient care and chief nursing officer at Rapid City Regional Hospital in Rapid City, South Dakota. While there, she helped raise $5 million to build a hospice house and home healthcare facility and received the Distinguished Service Award for Nursing from South Dakota University. In 2016, Haxton was a contributing author for “Nurse Burnout: Combating Stress in Nursing,” published by Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing.
Because of her many contributions to the nursing profession, the UMKC Alumni Association will present Haxton with the 2018 School of Nursing and Health Studies Alumni Achievement Award.
Haxton recently discussed her career achievements with UMKC:
How did you know you wanted to pursue a career in nursing?
I always enjoyed my science classes in high school. I loved discovering how things worked. I was also very people oriented and knew I wanted a career where I interacted with people. Nursing was the right career for me because of the many job opportunities for a nurse. I knew I would never be bored in my job.
Why did you choose UMKC for your master’s degree?
I started at another university and took one class. About halfway through that class, I knew that was not the program for me and then transferred to UMKC. I never regretted that decision because of the strength of the faculty at UMKC.
I chose nursing education because I felt it would give me more options for job opportunities. I was in an education position when I started in the program at UMKC, but I had also been in a nursing leadership position prior to teaching. In a leader or educator role, you are always educating your colleagues on the importance of nursing to healthcare outcomes. Most people not in nursing don’t understand the complexity of the profession.
You were involved in the first uterine transplant in the U.S. resulting in a successful live birth. Describe that experience.
The uterine transplant study was just beginning when I started at BUMC. As a nurse executive, I had responsibilities for the nursing units for transplant as well as the units in women and children, labor and delivery and the neonatal intensive care unit. I had the rare opportunity to support the nurses who cared for these patients across the continuum of care. It was a privilege to be a part of a process with such positive outcomes. All the women in the study were born without a uterus. They thought they would never get pregnant and carry their own baby to term. Their only opportunity would be to use a surrogate.
I believe it is an important advancement because we are still learning about what happens when different organs are transplanted. The original work was done in Sweden. The future is questionable. It is not an inexpensive program to do. It is much less expensive to go the surrogate route. It is currently not a procedure covered by insurance, and neither are the costs of a surrogate delivery.
You recently contributed to a book on nursing burnout and managing stress. Where does your passion for helping the next generation of nurses come from?
Nursing is the largest profession in healthcare. It is a profession that requires compassion and dedication. You are caring for patients when they are most vulnerable. You have a person’s life in your hands and what you do every day can make a difference in how that patient recovers from their illness. The continual stress that occurs in the work environment many times causes nurses to burn out early in their career. I had a colleague who did her doctoral capstone project on fatigue in leadership. From that work, she decided to write a proposal to publish a book on nurse burnout with tips of how to prevent it. Once it got approved she asked some of us to help. It ended up that three of us helped her by each writing three chapters in the book.
I chose the following three chapters: slice of reality (understanding finance in healthcare); professional integrity (looking at the risk of crossing professional boundaries when you are caring for patients) and the social milieu (focused on the importance of the culture in the department or unit you work on to prevent burnout, how to build a healthy work environment). In each chapter, we wrote about the history of the issue, and in the end gave tips on how to prevent burnout.
You helped raise $5 million to build a hospice facility during your time in Rapid City. Why is improving patient care so important to you?
I have always believed in the philosophy that as a nursing leader, you must keep the team focused on what is best for the patient. Nurses spend the most direct time with the patient and family. Nurses are the patient advocates who help them to understand their disease and how to navigate the health care system. In the U.S., we usually spend the most money on the last three months of life. The development and building of the Hospice House was a project that was close to my heart. Most people would like to die at home but sometimes that is not possible if you don’t have a caregiver who could be there 24 /7. In the Hospice House, you could get care 24/7 in a home-like environment where the patient could be made as comfortable as possible during those last days and weeks of life.