Jennifer Watts, M.D., M.P.H., chief emergency management medical officer, director of global health and a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Children’s Mercy Kansas City, a children’s hospital in Kansas City, Missouri is one of the 10 up-and-coming healthcare leaders featured in the annual Managed Healthcare Executive feature.
Jennifer Watts, M.D., M.P.H.
I am Kansas City-born and raised. I attended Rockhurst University in Kansas City and then St. Louis University School of Medicine. I returned to Kansas City for a pediatrics residency and then a pediatric emergency medicine fellowship.
While I completed all my training in Missouri, I fell in love with global health work and have worked all over the world. In fact, because of this, I created the Global Health Program at Children’s Mercy Kansas City in 2011 and have trained more than 100 pediatric physicians to work in the global health area.
I have also served as the pediatric chief medical officer for the Missouri Disaster Medical Assistance Team, which is where my passion for disaster medicine grew. This became extremely helpful when COVID-19 entered the United States. I assisted the organization and region on pediatric disaster management in response to the pandemic. During this time, I was appointed chief emergency management medical officer and helped redesign and build emergency management at Children’s Mercy. We currently have a team of five members and are working to drive the organization in emergency preparedness and response locally, regionally and nationally.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in healthcare?
It sounds cliché, but I decided to become a physician because I like to help people. Over time, I recognized what a privilege it is to be involved with a family when there’s a critical moment in their child’s life. I truly enjoy helping parents navigate medicine and make informed decisions for their children.
Which career accomplishment are you proudest of and why?
I am most proud of the moments of advocacy every day in the emergency room. Helping children have a voice and supporting that voice being heard, whether by their parents, team members in the emergency room or society as a whole, are truly what keep me coming back day after day.
What is the most challenging part of your current position?
I cannot tell you one thing that is most challenging in my current position because there are challenges every day — and each challenge carries merit, or it wouldn’t be a challenge. Challenges come along to push us to reevaluate situations and drive change in an organization as well as within ourselves.
What is your organization doing to address healthcare equity?
One of the significant things that Children’s Mercy is doing to address equity is truly acknowledging that inequities exist. Acknowledging the problem first and foremost is critical to the success of any initiative. In 2020, the organization hired a full-time chief equity and inclusion officer focused on creating an inclusive work environment for clinicians, faculty and staff. The hospital also provides equitable and exceptional healthcare for our patients and their families.
Children’s Mercy also has an Equity and Diversity Council that addresses issues related to equity and diversity. The council has four working groups comprised of staff and community volunteers.
If you could change one thing in U.S. healthcare, what would it be?
If I could change one thing, it would be to simplify it. U.S. healthcare is extremely complex and challenging to navigate. There are people who need help, and people who know how to provide help and who want to help; we need to bring that foundational core back to the center of healthcare.
How do you avoid burnout?
I love spending time with my family and being outdoors. We enjoy hiking, traveling and seeing the world through each other’s eyes. Being with my children in nature keeps things real and grounded.