Deborah Gardner ’73
August 13, 2004
Ask Deborah Gardner what she does for a living, and she just might tell you that she’s in the customer service business. As chief of planning and organizational development for the Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health, Deb led a customer service initiative in 2001. The training was considered one of the most successful programs ever launched, and additional funding was awarded in 2002. “I feel strongly that we have the best customer service of any government agency. We motivate our employees to bring their best self forward in working with patients as well as coworkers. This work makes me feel like I still make a difference in the patient arena. I use my nursing skills as well as leadership skills I learned at OBU,” she says.
Deb decided early on that she wanted to study nursing. “My father offered me some good advice. He said “Debbie, it’s fine if you want to be a nurse, but get a degree.’ OBU offered a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and that was important to my family background.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing when I first came to OBU until I took my first nursing class. It was like I knew then that I was where I needed to be.”
Upon graduation from OBU, Deb served in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps for three years. After receiving her master’s in psych-mental health nursing, she worked as a clinical nurse specialist for Kaiser Permanente in Hawaii from 1979 until 1984. She first came to NIH as an internal consultant and clinical specialist in research in 1987. “I came to NIH in the ’80s because that was the place to be for learning more about the biological aspects of psychiatric illness and that is what I wanted to do. Judy Kiel was a huge influence on me at OBU. She was my psych nursing professor, and gave me many insights into psych nursing.”
Deb recalls some other important role models at OBU. “Jaunita Proctor and Juanita Millsap were amazing! These two women looked at the discipline of nursing not just as rote memorization of procedures, but they explained the principles behind the practice. To this day, my teaching is modeled after their Socratic styles. They cared about the whole student which created learning at multiple levels. Dr. Jim Hurley was also a strong influence. He was a challenging teacher who expected you to “think” about problems from a systems perspective.”
In March 2000 Deb began her present role, where she is responsible for leading the collaborative development and monitoring strategic and operational planning for the Clinical Center. “The NIH is a huge organization, consisting of 27 different institutes. I work at the Clinical Center, which is a hospital that is completely clinical research based. Patients are our partners in research. People come here to be on protocols, and often it is their last hope.”
Deb’s customer service abilities also come in handy in her personal life, since her husband is the town mayor. The Gardners reside in Falls Church, Virginia, and have two daughters, KC and Beth.