Service in Healthcare, Straight from the Heart

Karen Greenberg, MSN
Director of Education at Southern Hills Hospital, Las Vegas, Nevada (HCA)

She’s a team of one, so getting it all done takes skill—but mostly, it’s a passion for service. 

Karen Greenberg is the Director of Education for Southern Hills Hospital in Las Vegas. In a conversation with Karen, you’d likely hear lots of laughter and many selfless statements. When she tells the story of her career, it’s the story of a pursuit—and a story told with joy.

A seasoned healthcare professional with strong roots as an ICU nurse, Karen is the type of person who brings confidence and credibility to the leadership and oversight of nursing education in her hospital. But it’s interesting—that isn’t where she ever intended her career to lead.

Early on, Karen wanted to be a history teacher. Her older brother, a nurse himself, convinced Karen that nursing was a great choice of profession. She listened to his advice, completed nursing school, then worked as an ICU nurse in the cardiac wing of a California hospital for six years before moving to Las Vegas. “Being a nurse, I could work anywhere,” recalls Karen. She went to work for HCA in Nevada and has loved every day of the last 26 years with the company. “It’s a great place to work. They’ve been very supportive with everything—and WGU tuition reimbursement didn’t hurt.”

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On top of a busy and successful nursing career, Karen took to opportunities to give of her time and experience. Through the friend of a friend, she learned of a simulation lab that needed tutors.

“I just thought it would be fun,” Karen said. Not having a lab environment in the nursing program she attended, she understood the value of a non-threatening learning environment for hands-on skills development. “I just wanted to be a part of that,” she said. For two years, Karen worked as a registered nursing tutor with the College of Southern Nevada in that lab environment. But that wasn’t her first experience with the education side of healthcare—even earlier in-service work provides more evidence of the “heart of service” that Karen embodies.

At Southern Hills Hospital, there was a need for help in the hospital’s education coordination. Karen jumped right in. She stopped tutoring in order to have time to add Education Coordinator to her resume. By the time an official role was developed, it was clear Karen was the best fit.

“They offered me the job, and I just kind of fell into the role,” Karen said. “It was really interesting to me,” she said. “I got to meet all of the new hires and develop relationships with all of the new nurses.” When asked to identify her favorite part of the role, Karen quickly said, “Teaching classes. It’s the interaction that drives me, whether 1:1 or 1:30. … I love to see the light bulbs go off.”

While teaching, she decided that she could learn more. So, at age 59, she earned her master’s in Nursing Education. “I’m the poster child for going back to school late in life,” she said.

As mentoring was central to her role in the hospital, it only makes sense she chose WGU. While attending WGU, Karen worked with several faculty mentors, and she says, “They were all fantastic. That constant reminder that the conclusion of my degree was drawing near helped me keep momentum!” 

Now, as the Director of Education at Southern Hills Hospital, Karen summarizes the scope of her role by saying, “I train seasoned nurses to be great preceptors. It’s about growing great mentors.”

Mentors, no matter what industry you’re in, are a high-value asset. Investing in continuing education—at any age and any career stage—is how you stay on top in your industry and find those passion-igniting opportunities. Karen’s passion is palpable, and below she shares more thoughts on the industry:

Q: What are your favorites memories from your nursing days?
A:
“I worked ICU for 29 years, a lot of that in the cardiovascular surgery area. It was the people that you work with that you remember. The difference between patients is incredible—some are short visits, and others are long-term critical care. Working with the families of these patients is rewarding. But also, great teamwork. Really smart nurses and doctors who relied upon us to be their eyes and ears. They knew that we knew our stuff.”

Q:  What changes in healthcare that you see excite you?
A:
“Nurses being able to practice more independently, such as nurse practitioners. Here in Nevada, it’s particularly interesting because over the last few years these professionals can work on their own. It’s incredibly important when you have a large population who are underserved.”

Q: Do you ever get to put back on the nurse hat?
A:
“Oh yes, just two weeks ago I was working ICU because we were at 136% capacity. I wasn’t taking a patient load, but I was handling medications, checking blood sugars, working pain management. It’s just natural to step in when needed.”

Q: If you could sit down with the incoming U.S. president, what would you tell him or her is vital to continued reform in healthcare?
A:
[Laughter] “There are so many things to make healthcare better. I think providing options and services to keep people from getting sick, rather than just treating patients once they are sick is key: wellness programs, improving vaccination rates, and nutrition for children. These programs are so very important for long-term health—they help create a foundation for lifetime health.”

Q: Where do you turn for industry news and continuing education opportunities?
A:
“I’m a long-time member of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, and I access free CEUs on their site. I’m also a member of the Association for Nursing Professional Development (ANPD), which is a group of nurse educators. I gravitate to these publications and organizations because I don’t have a lot of time to read. But another one that’s been around forever and always has great information is the American Journal of Nursing.”

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