Jennifer Morton’s rise from patient care tech at Ascension St. Vincent’s to national nursing leader

Jennifer Morton, DNP, RN, takes on a new leadership role at Ascension as the Senior Director of Nursing Practice and Operations for the organization.

As Jennifer Morton, DNP, RN, undertakes a leadership role in developing nursing leaders and enhancing nursing practice for Ascension’s 139 hospitals, the foundational knowledge and skills she learned as a patient care tech and bedside nurse at Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside will guide her every step of the way.

“You don't forget where you came from,” said Morton, who assumed the role of Senior Director of Nursing Practice and Operations for Ascension in July. “When I'm streamlining a process or changing the staffing model on a unit, I honestly stop and think back to when I was a PCT.”

Morton started her career as a PCT in the infectious disease unit in her 20s. “I am a caregiver at heart,” she said. “Being a PCT was great exposure and solidified my desire to become a nurse.”

Patient care techs are the eyes and ears of the medical team, observing patients and alerting them to any changes in patients’ conditions or needs. They also attend to patients’ needs and provide comfort and calm, engendering trust that impacts their experiences.

After graduating from nursing school five years later, she launched her bedside nursing career as a cardiac nurse at Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside. From there, she transitioned into the cardiac ICU for a few years.

“ICU nursing was probably my favorite,” she said. “The way you manage a patient and help their family cope with what's going on. I witnessed patients coming off ventilators and transferring to other units where they continued improving and eventually going home.”

Her leadership journey began as an assistant nurse manager at Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside. She stayed connected to the bedside by rounding on staff and listening to their concerns. She quickly found that she could be “their voice,” advocating for nurses, and PCTs, too.

“I love getting nurses what they need to be successful in their job,” she said. “My background as a PCT and bedside nurse helps me make better decisions because I'm thinking about the whole picture: the bedside nurse who needs to medicate many patients or the PCT that needs to ambulate patients. It helps keep my perspective to the bedside.”

In her new role, the scope of her work will expand nationally, developing processes and driving change that will affect nursing beyond Jacksonville to Ascension’s 2,600 sites of care, including 139 hospitals in 19 states.

She looks forward to continuing to develop nursing leaders. “Leader development is the most exciting aspect of what I do,” she said. “I hired PCTs and new nurses who are now managers and directors in the organization. It’s always exciting to see their evolution.”