Grace Wakulchik, president and chief executive officer (CEO), is the type of person who always sees the bigger picture. In fact, she first demonstrated her business acumen at age 10, when she realized she was being underpaid (25 cents a loaf!) for her homemade bread.
As a staff nurse, she wanted to help solve organizational problems such as inflexible staffing policies and equipment upgrades. When she joined Akron Children’s in 1992, she focused her energy on team building, operational excellence and encouraging clinicians to pursue management roles.
As chief nursing officer, she was instrumental in Akron Children’s receiving its first American Nurses Credentialing Center designation as a Magnet hospital for nursing excellence.
Learn a little bit more about the woman Crain’s Cleveland Business named one of 2018’s notable woman in health care.
Tell us about your background, schooling and role on ELT.
I received both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing from Case Western Reserve University. I worked at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in the adolescent unit and the NICU, while preparing to become a nurse practitioner (NP). Soon after completing my NP program, I realized I preferred working to solve system problems to help kids. I found it unacceptable that we were helpless in dealing with laundry problems, inflexible schedules, lack of equipment, etc., and I was passionate about promoting family-centered care. I went on to become a NICU nurse manager and a transport nurse. I loved going out on the helicopter in rural Missouri, where we would land in fields (yes this was a long time ago!) to go pick up babies. I earned my MBA in 1996, so I could progress to more advanced leadership roles. I learned a lot about finance, information technology (IT), operations and human resource management. My minor in IT helped me write a white paper on why Akron Children’s needed an intranet service to enhance employee communications. I remember submitting the paper to Mary Yeager (CNO at the time), and it was eventually implemented and transitioned to myKidsnet.
I currently lead our Executive Leadership Team (ELT). I added a few new members when I became president. In addition to the associate chief medical officer and chief quality officer, I added the and chief legal officer. I wanted to increase the number of physicians on the leadership team, make certain “quality” had a distinct voice, and that we had a leader who would ensure we did not take any legal misadventures! We added the medical staff department chairs and service line chiefs to the meeting once a month to engage them in key strategic initiatives and programs. This is the best group of people I have worked with. They are passionate about making this the best place for people to work and kids to get care.
Tell us a little about your role as President and CEO.
My role is different every day. I spend 25% of my time working with our amazing donors to support our hospital and the programs we provide. I spend time every week working with ELT and medical staff leaders. I round with quality, facilities and staff. I work with the board on our strategic mission, finances, investment and quality. I work with key community organizations such as the area nonprofits, including the Greater Akron Chamber, the Development Finance Authority, Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, the Akron Regional Hospital Association and local educational institutions. I enjoy working with other hospital leaders to develop programs that help bring pediatric services to areas that may be without primary or specialty care. My favorite part of the job is talking with employees, kids and families. I am a down to earth kind of person who got into this business to help people. If I can help solve a problem or help someone prepare to take on a new skill or role, that is amazing. I love hearing from our providers and staff about their vision and ideas for the future of health care and how we can get there.
What do you like about working at Akron Children’s?
I came here in 1992 expecting to stay until my kids were all in school. I never left because I fell in love with the culture, the mission and the people. I have never met a group of people like our staff who delight in doing the right thing for kids every day. It is an honor to work with them.
Why is employee engagement important to you?
It doesn’t matter how fancy the building is or if we have the latest equipment – providers and staff are the most important component in our care delivery system. Our team steps up to the plate every day and treats each child as if they were their own. I want to make certain they have what they need to do that. As an employee, you spend the majority of your life at your job. You only get one life;you should enjoy it and feel you are making a difference. If you aren’t engaged, you won’t be happy and able to share your expertise and kindness.
If you didn’t work in health care leadership, what would be your dream job?
I would be a full-time gardener or own a garden shop. Some people spend their money on clothes or cars (my friends can attest that I do not!), but there is not a plant I would not love to have, grow or sell. There is so much natural beauty in flowers and plants. I love coaxing them to grow and figuring out what does best in which location.
Tell us about your family.
I have four adult children and one grandson. Two of my children live in San Francisco, one in Chicago and one in Lakewood. Interestingly, no one went into health care. Their dad is a doctor and I’m a nurse and they thought we worked too hard. I see them working just as hard in education, technology, engineering, architecture, analytics and learning. You have to do what you love in life as a career. My new grandson, Charlie, is a joy. As all you grandparents know, grandchildren are perfect! How did they get a baby that goes to sleep every night at 7 p.m. on the dot and doesn’t get up until 6 a.m.?
How do you relax?
I garden, hike, kayak and read.
Most interesting place you’ve been and why?
I lived in Japan for three years as a child and I love all Asian cultures. My daughter taught in South Korea for a few years ,and I loved that. The people are kind, amazing and humble. I learned many important life lessons on how to live an honorable life, respect family and appreciate what we have.
What was your first paying job?
I learned to make bread when I was 10. My father would pay me 25 cents a loaf. It took me four hours to make two loaves. I had a lot to learn about finances! I then took on babysitting for 50 cents an hour. I was a slow learner.
What would you change about yourself if you could?
I would spend more time with my friends and those I love. Time goes by quickly. Sometimes we find we have crossed off the “to do” lists with our friends and family, but not spent the kind of time to really enjoy the relationship.
Do you have a favorite quote or mantra you live by?
Do the right thing. Always.
Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
I have two crazy schnoodles that keep me sane when I go home – Meiji and Soji. They love to go on walks, and they are always happy to see me!