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To this day, it’s the smiles that keep her inspired. It could be the wide-eyed grin of a child or the warm smile of a patient she has seen countless times; any smile will light up her whole day. 

“I see them have a little bit of joy, and that’s all it takes,” Minnie Washington says. “That’s all I need to know that this is what I am meant to do.” 

Washington, the director of medical-surgical nursing at HCA Houston Healthcare Conroe, started with her employer more than three decades ago. Her first job wasn’t in nursing; it was in a food and nutrition position. But after more than six years in that field, it was time for a change. 

“I saw a pathway for me to become a nurse, and I took it,” she says. “I haven’t looked back since.” 

Washington has spent the last 25 years looking forward. With help from HCA Houston Healthcare’s tuition reimbursement program, she has returned to school time and again: first for an associate degree, then for her bachelor’s, and then, just five years ago, for a master’s degree. 

As she puts it, “I literally started from the ground up, and I knew I couldn’t do it if I weren’t in the right organization, one that was supportive and encouraging and provided the right resources.” 

HCA Houston Healthcare has spent decades changing the lives of indispensable nurses like Washington. With 185 hospitals and more than 2,000 sites of care located throughout the country, the company has the resources needed to continuously invest in its people while providing the caring, personalized support that is critical for medical professionals like nurses. 

In Houston, for instance, this brand of support has helped nurses and other healthcare professionals respond to everything from a hurricane to a global pandemic with both compassion and expertise. In short, the city and its nurses are a prime example of how HCA Healthcare is creating a healthier tomorrow. 

“Nursing has a major seat at the table throughout our entire organization,” says Kelli Nations, chief nurse executive for the HCA Healthcare Gulf Coast Division. Through shared governance and councils comprised of nurses on the front lines, Nations says the nurse’s voice gets carried “all the way to the top.” 

“Nurses are always heard,” she adds, “and we are always going to do whatever it takes to get them where they want to be.” 

From left to right: Kelli Nations, chief nurse executive for the HCA Healthcare Gulf Coast Division, with Minnie Washington, the director of medical-surgical nursing at HCA Houston Healthcare Conroe.

To help mold nurses’ careers, Nations and her fellow leaders have ample help from a program known as StaRN: Specialty Training Apprenticeship for Registered Nurses. A blend of mentoring, classroom learning, and hands-on experiences, StaRN is designed to support graduate nurses transitioning  from the classroom to a hospital. The length and content of the program vary slightly depending on specialty (medical-surgical nurses, also known as “med/surg” nurses, will have a different experience than ER nurses, for example), still, no matter your specialty, StaRN is a comprehensive, formative experience that has received rave reviews. 

One particularly powerful aspect of the program is StaRN’s simulations: experiences wherein nurses run through any number of situations they are likely to encounter on a typical day at work. 

“Students in med/surg training may go through thirty different simulations in their last week in the program,” explains Diane Henry, the company’s vice president of clinical education. “And since there are six nurses in the room, it teaches them communication, collaboration, and what clinical responses they need to administer.” 

These simulations, while daunting, are invaluable for nurses just beginning their careers. They are also recorded, which allows nurses to debrief and learn from any mistakes or missteps they may have made. 

“This is where those mistakes can be made in a judgment-free zone,” Henry explains. “Even though they were scared at first, one of the biggest pieces of feedback we hear from our nurses is that the simulation is their favorite part of the whole StaRN experience.” 

“I literally started from the ground up, and I knew I couldn’t do it if I weren’t in the right organization, one that was supportive and encouraging and provided the right resources.” 

Minnie Washington, RN HCA Houston Healthcare

Further, programs like StaRN are particularly invaluable for nurses in the rural communities surrounding cities like Houston. Prior to the arrival of robust education initiatives such as the ones implemented by HCA Houston Healthcare, Henry says many communities were “left to their own devices” and, in some cases, forced to work without access to the latest technology. Now, nurses throughout Texas are able to receive both vital upskilling and connections to a truly international healthcare network. 

In addition to the flexibility to travel across the country to care for others, HCA Healthcare encourages and supports nurses in growing their careers through leadership development programs.

“If someone wants to be a nurse leader, we have support all over the country and the world,” Nations says. “I’m a formal mentor to a chief nursing executive in the United Kingdom, so if people come to me looking for that kind of experience, I say, ‘My goodness, I know Carol! Let’s get you set up in London!’” 

Ongoing clinical education and training take place in HCA Healthcare Centers for Clinical Advancement (CCAs), which are scattered throughout the country.

Ongoing clinical education and training take place at eleven HCA Healthcare Centers for Clinical Advancement (CCAs) scattered throughout the country, where thousands of nurses have the opportunity to keep learning and enhancing their skills. These CCAs, including a 48,400-square-foot facility in Pearland, use tools like mannequins to further simulate high-risk circumstances. 

“Simulation labs can be extremely difficult to set up, and many nurses have never had access to a space like this,” Henry says. “When you combine classroom instruction with this type of hands-on experience, you can help nurses become lifelong learners who are ready for anything. As we’ve seen the last couple of years, that agility is more important than ever.” 

The result is an educational and career advancement experience that is simply unparalleled in Houston, throughout Texas, and across the U.S. But if you talk to any of HCA Houston Healthcare’s leaders, the conversation will always come back to the patients. The incredible training and facilities are impressive, but at the end of the day, the purpose of all these tools aim to create better health. 

In other words, the goal is also to create more of those smiles Washington loves to see. 

“The opportunities and resources are endless with HCA, but what’s most important is that I’m with a family that cares about me,” says Washington. “I get to do what I love with a company that really cares about me, all while I’m impacting the community. It just doesn’t get any better than that.” 

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