EDITOR’S NOTE: This FACES interview took place well before COVID-19 arrived and impacted Memphis. Please read with that in mind. Thank you.
With a strong philosophy of kindness, fairness, service to others, honesty and faith, Dr. Florence Jones is on a journey to improve healthcare in Memphis, one step at a time. Under her leadership, Methodist North Hospital received Magnet® designation by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, a recognition awarded to less than 10 percent of hospitals in the United States and only about 500 worldwide. Her journey is reflective of her drive to succeed, as she has risen from staff nurse to chief nursing officer and chief operating officer, to her current position as president of Methodist North. Join us as we talk to this trailblazing FACE of Memphis, Dr. Florence Jones!
Tell us about your background.
I grew up in Louisville, KY, the second oldest of six sisters and one brother. My father worked two jobs, and my mother worked long hours at a dry cleaner. Neither graduated from high school, but they were strong believers in getting an education and instilled values of hard work and doing the right thing. Both my parents obtained their GED, and my mother went back to school to become a licensed practical nurse.
I went to Murray State University in Kentucky, where I met my husband. We got married after college and have three children.
What drew you to a career in healthcare?
My mother was a great role model for me. When I got ready for college, I originally planned to do a two-year program. At the same time, my mother planned to extend her education to become an RN in a two-year program. We had our biggest argument then – she told me she’d read nurses needed to have a four-year degree, and that’s what I should do. I told her I wanted to get out on my own and make money sooner. But she wouldn’t let me, and back then you did as you were told! My mother was wise because my experience at a four-year college gave me the best foundation for a career in healthcare.
How did your career trajectory lead you to Memphis and Methodist Healthcare?
After I graduated, I went to work as an ICU nurse at Western Baptist Hospital in Paducah, KY. In 1977, I enlisted in the United States Army Reserves and served three years in the Army Nurse Corps. I enjoyed mentoring new nurses and was asked to join the faculty at Paducah Community College in 1979. I became a tenured faculty member and served as the interim nursing program director before re-joining Western Baptist as the associate director of nursing.
I took my first chief nursing officer (CNO) position at Pinelake Regional Hospital in Mayfield, KY. I started in 1991, and three years later, I was promoted to chief operating officer (COO). I left Mayfield after six years and went to Jordan Valley Hospital in Salt Lake City, UT. It was an awesome experience I wouldn’t trade for anything, but it was just too far away from home! We moved back south after about a year.
Between 1998 and 2008, I held positions at hospitals in Vicksburg, MS; Palatka, FL; and Greenville, MS. I was the COO at Delta Regional Medical Center in Greenville when I got a call from Dr. Michael Ugwueke — at the time the president of Methodist South — and I joined the team as CNO.
You were named president of Methodist North Hospital in 2017. Can you tell us how that came about and what it has meant to you?
In 2013, the CNO at Methodist North left, and I was asked to take on both positions on an interim basis, then was asked to stay at Methodist North.
In 2016, the president of Methodist North left. I’ll never forget the day he resigned. I got a call from Dr. Ugwueke asking me to become the interim president. I said, “Michael, do you know who you are talking to?” He laughed and said, “Yes, Florence, I know who I’m talking to!” He had faith in me, so I agreed to step in on an interim basis.
Anything I do, I want to do well. I want to exceed expectations. I’m not shy about asking for help, and I don’t want to become stagnant. When the hospital board began bringing in candidates for the job, staff members began to ask if I would consider keeping the job. They said they enjoyed working with me and felt I was approachable and committed to taking North in the right direction. I was treated just like every other candidate and interviewed with the board. I took the position in February 2017.
You do a “walk in their shoes” experience where you work side-by-side with members of your staff. Can you tell us more about it?
I do “walk in their shoes” with our associates for multiple reasons. Number one, I want to get to know each person. Working alongside them provides a natural setting for me to hear about their families and interests, and I get to see firsthand the special things they do for our patients. Second, they get to know me. I want to be approachable, and I want others to see me living out my values. It is also a way for me to let them know their jobs are valuable and important to the Methodist mission. And it provides an opportunity for associates to ask me questions. For me to go to their work environment for one-on-one time is very meaningful for all of us.
Why did you decide Methodist North would be a good candidate for the Magnet® Recognition Program?
The Methodist Healthcare system has very lofty goals — top decile performance on all measures. We as a system have made improvements each year. We were doing the work to get to top decile performances, regardless of whether we got the Magnet designation, so why not go for it? The Magnet goals are slightly different, but they are high performing goals, too.
I started the Magnet process with the idea of getting everyone — and we have over 900 associates — invested in the concept of high performance. As the CNO, I began laying the foundation and setting up the committees to rally people around the spirit of this journey. We talked a lot about how the Magnet recognition is in line with our Methodist goals of high-quality care and service. It was a vehicle to take the team on a journey to strive for a goal.
When I became president, I hired a CNO who had experience at Le Bonheur, also a Magnet hospital, and handed the baton to her.
What does Magnet Recognition mean to the hospital?
First, the pride that we accomplished this as a small community hospital and are now part of an elite group. But there is also a sense of responsibility to keep the standard held high. It’s not one-and-done. Magnet re-evaluates us every four years, and if we don’t maintain the performance level, we lose the designation. We have to show how we’ve built on our foundation and grown as well. It’s not just a matter of re-submitting information.
What do you love most about living in Memphis?
The diversity and rich culture. You have so many different experiences in all parts of town. We’ve got great theaters, for example! I’m a season ticket holder to the Orpheum, and I was a contributing member to Hattiloo Theatre. When my family visits, they always want to go to Beale Street, and of course, try one of our great restaurants.
This past summer, I hosted our family reunion here. We have a huge family and almost 80 members came from all over the U.S. Our home base was Sheraton Downtown. Part of the reunion package was a hop-on hop-off trolley ticket. We went to the National Civil Rights Museum first, and then everyone spent the afternoon exploring downtown. They loved it!
What’s your best piece of advice?
Set goals for all aspects of your life — family, education, career, financial, health, spiritual and community. Once you set your goals, make small but consistent steps to get the momentum going. Surround yourself with positive people who understand your goals and give you candid feedback. Help other people achieve their goals. Some of my proudest moments have been when I knew I was a contributor to someone getting a promotion, an advancement or achieving a goal.
Aside from family, faith and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Shopping, books and travel.
Thank you, Dr. Jones! And thanks to Erin Mosher Studios for the beautiful photos.
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