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The journey to interim CEO: Justine Jackson’s story

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WATCH: ‘4 things you didn’t know about Justine Jackson’. (Video: UHN)

​With almost 30 years of experience in 14 roles at University Health Network (UHN), Justine Jackson, Executive Vice-President & Chief Financial Officer, has taken on a new role as interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

Jackson talks about defining moments in her career and what she's learned about the heart of UHN – how research and patient care are connected.

Image of Justine Jackson relaxes at home with her husband and three dogs
Justine Jackson relaxes at home with her husband and three dogs. (Photo: Justine Jackson)

Forestry to finance

Jackson, married 27 years with four kids in their 20s and three dogs, grew up on a farm near Enniskillen Ontario. She remembers racing off the school bus to work in her family's vegetable garden – digging up potatoes, picking strawberries, and topping them with whipped cream after a long day at school.

In high school, Jackson put her strawberry-picking days behind her and began waitressing at Acres Restaurant.

"I waitressed long enough to get a trip to Europe and a camera paid for," remembered Jackson with a laugh.

Soon, she would be counting much more than tips.

While Jackson always believed she would end up in forestry, a high school guidance counselor offered different advice, pointing out her ease with numbers and suggested a career in accounting.

In the late '70s, Jackson enrolled in the Bachelor of Commerce program at the University of Toronto.

In 1981, she landed her first job as a Staff Accountant at Ernst & Young.

Image of Justine Jackson
Jackson arrived at UHN in 1984 – she’s held 14 different finance roles since then. (Photo: Justine Jackson)

1984: Jackson arrives at UHN

In 1984, Justine joined UHN as an Internal Audit Consultant. Two years later, she was promoted to Finance Manager, Research, which she describes as her first defining role at UHN.

"I was introduced to the world of research and all its players – including the Michael Bakers of the world," said Jackson. "I remember taking tours of the labs – it was so interesting to learn through the eyes of physicians and understand how research and patient care are connected."

Fast forward 10 years, and Jackson identifies her second defining role as Senior Finance Manager, where she was responsible for managing case costing implementation at UHN – linking patient care information to operational – helping managers, physicians, directors, the executive team, front line staff and UHN trustees gain a better understanding of what all services cost.

"I think of information as the nerve system of UHN," said Jackson. "Understanding how details of clinical data connect with the financial world. This was a huge learning for me."

The magic of the OR

In 2004, Jackson took on one of her most memorable roles as Executive Director of Operations & Controller for Toronto Western Hospital (TWH), where she was responsible for developing and delivering the operating budget, and accountable for clinical programs including: Neuroscience Program, Arthritis Program and Allied Health.

"In all my time here, I've never known anyone to go from the finance side to the clinical side – that was a really spectacular opportunity for me," said Jackson.

She remembers how rewarding it was to see the patient impact firsthand in the operating room (OR).

"I remember walking into a brain surgery case with a neurosurgeon. He was six hours in and had not yet reached the surgical site. He had to move things aside for six hours, making his way to the tumour," said Jackson. "The OR is a beautiful microclimate of healthcare. You see the clinical team at work, the preparation time required, the clean-up afterward – even the theatre throughout the moments of tension, when it's easy, when it's hard – you see all of that within an OR case."

"That's the magic for me," added Justine. "To appreciate the fact that you can see the patients in the decisions you're making."

'We thrive on doing the tough stuff'

Jackson has been through four UHN integrations – and describes how the organization continues to thrive.

"Brilliant things have come out of every UHN integration – what binds us together is our drive for improving things," said Jackson. "That's what the research hospital is about – we have a desire to improve at all levels and thrive on doing the tough stuff."

Since January 2012, Jackson has been the Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer, accountable for UHN's $1.9 billion operating budget, $100+ million capital budget, and creating UHN's five, 10, and 20 year development plan.

As interim CEO, Jackson will continue moving the Advanced Clinical Documentation project forward, while keeping pace with family and patient expectations using the partners-in-care model, and sustaining momentum around UHN's strategic plan.

"The first thing I say to everyone I meet with is 'how can I help?'" said Jackson. "I want to make sure nothing comes to a halt inadvertently. If there is anything I need to do to keep things moving forward, that's my number one job."

Jackson explains that she's also comfortable asking for help and knows where to find it.

"I will look to the leaders of this organization for guidance," said Jackson. "At UHN, there is always an expert in something, and I have a good sense of where to go.  That's where my 30 years here will be very helpful!"


Image of Justine Jackson gardening at home
Jackson unwinds from a long work week by gardening at home on the weekends. She calls it ‘garden’ tai-chi. (Photo: Justine Jackson)

Balancing the job: 'no email on Saturdays'

While Jackson has upheld many demanding jobs for almost 30 years, she maintains that work-life balance is the key to success.

"I try not to do email on Saturdays," said Justine. "Sometimes I look, but don't touch."

Jackson also has a green thumb and spends her summers creating garden communities – what she refers to as 'garden' tai chi.

"I have quite the eclectic garden," she said. "Gardening is so peaceful – I love going to see what's new in the spring."

She also enjoys travelling and plans six months ahead so she has the next trip to look forward to.

"My favourite place to go is somewhere I haven't been," she said.

Jackson will take in some much-needed sun and relaxation on a Panama-Canal cruise this fall.​

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