Improving more lives in more ways: HCA Healthcare Chief Human Resources Officer shares vision for people agenda and passion for patient care

"I have such a connection to the people who deliver care and other support services. Not just from my years working in the hospital, but because I have spent time in nearly every area of the HCA Healthcare organization. I’ve walked the halls of our ambulatory surgery centers, physicians’ offices, urgent care centers, warehouses and business offices. Those experiences have given me a deeper understanding of the work that we do and how it all comes together." -Jen Berres

When assuming her role as HCA Healthcare’s Chief Human Resources Officer in late 2019, Jen Berres quickly found herself leading a workforce of nearly 294,000 colleagues at one of the nation’s largest healthcare providers in the face of a national nursing shortage and global pandemic. She immediately leveraged her personal, 30-year career journey with HCA Healthcare to guide our people agenda and advocate for all colleagues amid strong industry headwinds, and now is laying the groundwork to support generations that will provide care to our communities in years to come.

Under Jen’s leadership, we prioritize investing in our workforce and positioning colleagues to lead our organization — and in many ways the industry — in providing excellent patient care. Our investments in nursing education aim to address the national nursing shortage, and our award-winning Leadership Institute continues to develop leaders who embrace our mission, grow our business and innovate healthcare delivery, graduating more than 16,850 colleagues since its 2014 inception and fostering an 81% retention rate for graduates since 2020.

As she helps others chart and pursue their career pathways, we sat down with Jen to look at her own: where she’s been, what she’s learned and how she is helping to inform and inspire the healthcare workforce of the future.

Tell us how you got started at HCA Healthcare. What was your first day like?

It’s a great story. I had just graduated from college with a degree in marketing. I was looking for a job, so I asked my next-door neighbor, Lois, to help me with my resume. She was the director of food and nutrition services at now HCA Florida Bayonet Point Hospital, and she set me up to shadow the hospital’s vice president of marketing for a day. When I got there, an urgent situation had come up, so the vice president of human resources offered to meet with me instead. At the end of the meeting, she offered me a job. That was my entry into both HCA Healthcare and human resources. I fell in love with it all. Twenty-six years later, when I got the chief human resources officer role, I quickly thought of Lois and my gratitude for her helping me get started. I sent her flowers with a note saying, “This wouldn’t have happened without you.” She called me and left an incredibly beautiful and emotional voicemail.

What did your years of work in the hospital mean to you?

I spent about four years in the hospital at the start of my career. It was incredibly meaningful work that has truly stayed with me as a source of purpose and inspiration. It was the care and improvement of human life, the teamwork, the relationships, the mission and the camaraderie within the four walls of that hospital; everything about it was just exceptional. I mean, truly to this day, I still dream about that hospital. When my dad was ill, before he passed away, the chief executive officer would visit with him and my mom and bring them cookies. I’ve never forgotten how that leader and the care team made my family feel. I love my job, but I can’t imagine not going back to the hospital before I retire. I have an absolute passion for the work I did during that time. I still feel grounded by that sense of pride, purpose and belonging.

How does your experience working in a hospital inform your work today?

I have such a connection to the people who deliver care and other support services. Not just from my years working in the hospital, but because I have spent time in nearly every area of the HCA Healthcare organization. I’ve walked the halls of our ambulatory surgery centers, physicians’ offices, urgent care centers, warehouses and business offices. Those experiences have given me a deeper understanding of the work that we do and how it all comes together. It reminds me of how we need to care for our colleagues and how we need to make sure that we’re driving a people agenda that helps us fulfill our mission and deliver outcomes for the business. I don’t think you can really do that without walking in the shoes of our caregiver colleagues for a while. 

“I have such a connection to the people who deliver care and other support services. Not just from my years working in the hospital, but because I have spent time in nearly every area of this organization. I’ve walked the halls of our ambulatory surgery centers, physicians’ offices, urgent care centers, warehouses and business offices. Those experiences have given me a deeper understanding of the work that we do and how it all comes together.”

Jen Berres, HCA Healthcare’s Chief Human Resources Officer

What advice would you give to other professionals that might help them on their career journey? 

Authenticity matters. Learning to be authentic, vulnerable and real has helped me more in my career than probably anything else. It was 20-plus years before I had the chance to work with an executive coach. Somewhere along my journey, I became really intense about my work: delivering outcomes and the numbers. I thought I needed to be a buttoned-up leader. The fact is yes, I needed to be that, but I also needed to show my warmth, my humor and my emotional and connected side. The person I truly am. And it was a liberating experience. I felt like a million bricks were lifted from me and I started to loosen up. The value that created directly influenced my ability to build relationships, which has been an incredible asset to my career. 

You started in your role as Chief Human Resources Officer right before the COVID-19 pandemic began. How did you meet that challenge?

I think it helped me jump right into my new role and into a level of contribution quicker than had we not been facing a global pandemic. I think I would have sat back and listened a bit more to better understand the dynamics. I would have felt things out before I dove in. But we were in the middle of a crisis. We had to think about our people and protect them in every way possible. And probably the best compliment of my entire career was when Sam Hazen, our chief executive officer, told me that I showed up strategically at a critical time by coming to the table with how we needed to care for our people.

Industry-wide, COVID-19 exacerbated the existing nursing shortage. How have you worked to address the challenge and invest in nursing?

Everyone in this organization is very dialed into the people agenda. It’s all about our workforce all day long in every single part of HCA Healthcare. In addition to ongoing investments in technology, education and career development, one of the biggest investments we’ve made is in Galen College of Nursing. We’ve also made a significant investment in our clinical academic partnerships, offering clinical rotations and scholarship programs to get people into nursing and other healthcare roles. We are committed to building and developing our workforce. We haven’t solved it yet, and getting this right is a place of pride for me. If we can contribute to solving this healthcare staffing shortage, I’ll retire in peace.

Fast fact: As a part of HCA Healthcare’s commitment to workforce development, eligible colleagues can access our student loan and tuition assistance programs, including for completion of the Galen College of Nursing online RN-to-BSN program with zero out-of-pocket tuition expenses. In 2022, colleagues received $8.8 million in student loan assistance and $30.4 million in tuition assistance benefits.

Our organization has already made some great progress on major initiatives under your leadership. What have been the key drivers of that success?

What is driving our success is an engaged team, a passion for excellence and a commitment to collaboration. We are actively leveraging resources across the company. We are pulling in new talent and skills across our HR team. We are forging new relationships with IT to help us automate processes. We are partnering with Nursing and Performance Improvement to address the workforce challenge. It’s all about teamwork, collaboration and leveraging strengths to make the greatest difference for our people, patients and other stakeholders.

Fast fact: With more than 93,000 nurses and 45,000 active and affiliated physicians delivering high-quality care to our patients, HCA Healthcare is committed to listening to our colleagues and providing the resources and support they need. We aim to support the physical, mental, professional and financial health of our approximately 294,000 colleagues, and we’re proud to invest in a variety of benefits and resources to help improve their overall well-being.

Jen Berres and Kathi Whalen holding an award
Each year, YWCA AWA Academy for Women Achievement (Nashville) recognizes corporate honorees that are passionate about empowering women and making Nashville a more inclusive, informed, just, healthy and thriving place to live. Honorees are judged on several criteria including the number of women in leadership and/or management positions, policies, and creative and innovative strategies to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace for colleagues. HCA Healthcare was honored to receive this recognition at a January 2023 award ceremony. (Pictured) Kathi Whalen (left), Senior Vice President and Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer, HCA Healthcare; Jennifer Berres (right), Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, HCA Healthcare.

We recently launched a new HR strategy. What are you focusing on in 2023 and beyond?

At its core, our agenda is about developing and driving a winning talent strategy that delivers business value. We’re really focused on elevating talent acquisition and onboarding — on building a talent pipeline that responds to the challenges of today and prepares us for tomorrow. We’re looking to invest more deeply in delivering a learning and performance culture. We’ve made great progress and over the next few years, we’re looking at how we create opportunities for our colleagues to grow in their roles and careers while delivering truly exceptional patient care. Finally, we’re committed to furthering our engagement and retention agenda. Regularly, we’re asking our HR and operational leaders how are we giving our colleagues voice in the decisions that matter and closing the loop when we take action and how are we creating inclusive and diverse work experiences that instill a sense of belonging. We believe that getting these things right is critical to winning the war for talent and becoming the employer of choice. 

Fast fact: Our 2022 goal was to increase representation in our Executive Residency Program to be 30-40% people of color and 40% women, and we have met that goal with our incoming cohort comprising 40% people of color and 40% women.

As we look ahead to the workforce development agenda, what areas of focus are you most excited about? 

I’m excited about creating stronger pipelines. We have the opportunity to leverage our scale and our size, at the local level and company-wide, to help people find and build meaningful healthcare careers. We’re doing a good job in some areas, but we can do an even better job. I’m also excited about our work in developing career paths for our colleagues. Our vision is that any colleague within HCA Healthcare can say, “I’m ready for my next step. What are my career options? What do I need to do to get there and how will HCA Healthcare help me?” We’re exploring technology that would allow our colleagues to see the different pathways available to them and what they need to do in order to be ready to take on a new role. We want to help our colleagues connect all the dots. That’s how we’re going to deliver on the promise of a career of a lifetime at HCA Healthcare.

Fast fact: In 2022, 821 virtual classes and 524 in-person professional development courses were delivered throughout HCA Healthcare to grow and develop our leaders.

What has been the most rewarding thing about your career with HCA Healthcare?

Improving more lives in more ways. I love it. I didn’t coin that phrase, it’s one of our HCA Healthcare taglines, but it just sticks with me. I love what we stand for, and, when I think about it, I’m thinking about our colleagues, our patients and our communities. I’m thinking about the impact we can have on human life.

“Bettering the human condition is the greatest good any individual can achieve.”

Dr. Thomas Frist Sr., HCA Healthcare co-founder

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 183 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.

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