Nurses Week Profile – Steve Tarkington
When Steve Tarkington was 9 years old, his grandmother got sick. It was in the summer, so he spent a lot of time at her bedside. While most kids might find sitting in a hospital boring or scary, Tarkington saw it as something else: dynamic.
“I liked seeing all the things people were doing,” he recalls. “There was so much going on. Then in high school, I took a Health Occupations class. I shadowed an OR nurse and got to see real surgeries. I got a glimpse of how much these nurses helped people, and I wanted to do that.”
After getting his diploma, Tarkington started out in the ICU and floated to emergency as needed. In the 1980s, he was one of just 50,000 male nurses, a number that has increased 600 percent. He made less than $6 an hour, but that was fine by Tarkington — he wasn’t in it for the money.
“Seeing patients recover and walk out of the hospital, patients I saw at their worst, is rewarding,” he says. “When I was a nurse manager, we had a patient in his 40s who was in cardiac ICU for three months. There were times we didn’t think he would survive. The day he was discharged, his surgeon said to me, ‘If it weren’t for you and your nurses, that guy would not be walking out of here. You saved his life.’ That was powerful.”
As VP of Clinical Education Operations at HCA Healthcare, Tarkington keeps that feeling in the back of his mind. nurses in every job need to hold onto that patient connection and keep learning, and that’s his current focus — building a comprehensive, data-focused Clinical Education Program (CEP) using a shared services approach for all of HCA Healthcare. “My vision is that the clinical educators in our hospitals will eventually be spending 70 percent of their time on a unit working with nursing staff one-on-one, which will lead to improved patient outcomes. We want to support our clinical educator, decrease their administrative work and help them to spend more time in clinical units and at the bedside. These are master’s-prepared nurses, and we want them to spend time in high-value-add efforts with clinicians.”
In Tarkington’s 35-plus years at HCA Healthcare, he’s made his mark many ways: leading a redesign of nursing in acute care facilities; developing a cardiac transplant program in community settings; and managing a redesign of HCA Healthcare’s supply expense management and inpatient pharmacy operations using a shared services model in 170 hospitals. Over the years, he’s seen nursing evolve into a professional practice that’s evidence-based.
“When I started, it was more, ‘this is what you need to do,’ with less of ‘why you should do it,’” he says. “Now we have evidence to support what we’re doing. We know how our actions will affect our patients, and that helps us do the right things for them.”
Day to day, Tarkington is working with various stakeholders to develop the clinical education model across HCA Healthcare. He’s overseeing CEP pilots and working with the team to build Simulation Learning Centers throughout HCA Healthcare. TriStar opened theirs in 2017 as a state-of-the art learning environment that’s interactive and forward-looking.
“This is an exciting time to be a nurse in HCA Healthcare. I learn every day, and getting back to research allows me to understand how changes in healthcare will impact patient outcomes,” he says. “You have to stay motivated and remember why we do what we do: so we can watch patients walk out of our hospitals and back into their lives.”
Steve Tarkington practices what he preaches about continuing education: He’s currently pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice after 35 years at HCA Healthcare.
STEVE TARKINGTON, RN, MSN, MBA
Vice President, Clinical Education Operations
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About HCA Healthcare
HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 182 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.
As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.