Baptist Health Hardin Chief Nursing Officer Sharon Wright to retire
Wright discusses her career and the evolution of nursing
ELIZABETHTOWN, KY (Dec. 14, 2022) – Baptist Health Hardin has announced that Vice President of Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer Sharon Wright, MSN, RN, NE-BC, will retire at the end of this year. It is a monumental moment that reflects the end of an era at the hospital, formerly Hardin Memorial Health (HMH).
“Hardin has provided me many opportunities for education and growth, as well as a rich tapestry of human experiences,” Wright said. “The people of Baptist Health Hardin are family to me, and I will miss them deeply. I am a better person through my time serving at Hardin and in our community.”
“Under Sharon’s leadership, our hospital and staff have grown and developed,” said Chief Operating Officer Tom Carrico. “She has built a very talented and capable team that has thrived under her guidance and will remain strong long after she retires.”
Wright’s road to the executive suite began in rural Adair County, where a 12-year-old Wright had traveled to visit her grandmother. During that visit, Wright witnessed her grandmother die from a cardiac event. It was a life event that deeply affected her, and one that would shape her future. From that moment, Wright knew that she wanted to dedicate her life to helping others.
In the interest of giving his two daughters educational opportunities, Wright’s father moved the family to Glasgow where there was an LPN program. Wright enrolled in classes and went on to work for T.J. Samson Community Hospital after graduation. After two years, she decided to advance her education. She enrolled in classes at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, where she would graduate with her RN degree.
Wright began her career at HMH in 1987, amid a nursing shortage. At that time, women were accepting an increasing number of roles outside the traditionally female-dominated fields of nursing and teaching. Male nurses were not as common as they are today. Nursing wages also lagged behind other professions.
Wright’s joining the HMH team would not only benefit her with career advancement opportunities but would also play a part in the evolution of the hospital, where Sharon would begin a lifelong career and establish herself as a leader in nursing and healthcare.
Wright began her career at HMH in the Critical Care Unit (CCU), spending 15 years working with critically ill patients. While working in CCU, she discovered a passion for teaching. At the time the hospital had no formal education department, but Wright led the charge, developing her own classes and teaching them across the organization.
Leaders took notice of her initiative and passion, promoting her to the Education Department, which by that time, had existed for a few years. She was later promoted to nursing manager for the Medical Care Unit, which specializes in dialysis and infectious diseases. Her success at increasing engagement and improving performance on the unit eventually led her to a leadership role in the Emergency Department (ED).
At the time, the lack of space in the ED created challenges in delivering care to the high volume of patients who came from all over central Kentucky and beyond. Wright served as spokesperson for the effort to close Woodland Drive and oversaw the ED expansion that would forever change the face of emergency care at the hospital. She led Shared Governance efforts, changing the culture and causing the department became a sought-after place to work. In four short years, Wright had left an indelible mark on the care and culture of the ED. Her success would land her in an administrative role. In 2013, former hospital President Dennis Johnson called upon her to step into the chief nursing officer position, the highest nursing position in the hospital.
While Wright’s success can be attributed to her work ethic, vision, passion for patient care, and commitment to excellence, she also credits the hospital leaders who encouraged and supported her. “I lead with strong personal connection and a very faith based transformational leadership style. I was supported by the hospital’s tuition plan. My bachelor’s and master’s degrees were both paid for by Hardin, as was my certification. Hardin always provided me the next open door. I love learning and solving complex problems. I’ve been influenced by every interaction I have had.”
She currently serves on more than 30 hospital committees and has been active on educational and leadership boards throughout the community and the nursing industry. Following are just a few of her accomplishments and accolades taken from an extensive list: ED expansion and closure of Woodland Drive; development of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program and attaining SANE Ready status in Kentucky; attaining the first Pathway to Excellence designation for nursing at HMH; developing a fully funded platform for employees to attain a nursing degree (ADVANCE); increasing the percentage of bachelor’s degree prepared RNs; attaining the first in Kentucky Advanced Accreditation of Total Hip and Knee programs by the Joint Commission; chairing the acquisition Steering Committee for the sale of HMH; implementation of EPIC, a unified electronic health record; and serving as COVID incident commander for the past 2 1/2 years.
Wright’s 35 years of service reflect her feelings about the hospital and the sense of family that exists there. “It has become family to me, and they have supported me through every milestone I wanted to achieve. They were open to ideas and solutions I brought forward. The hospital is well-supported by the community and focused on the mission that aligned with my own values, allowing me to deliver nursing care and stick to my Christian values.”
Wright has seen vast change since launching her career at the hospital in 1987. She recalls earlier days when a hitching post and water tank stood outside to accommodate the horses driven by the Amish community that came for care. She recalls a time when charting was handwritten because electronic medical records did not exist. There was no question about where patients would go when they left or whether insurance would pay. “Preventive health was not even a concept,” she said. “It was elder care. The patients we had were there because they were elderly and frail with broken bones.”
As technology and communication have evolved, so has the role of nurses. Nurses have gone from simply supporting physicians and giving bedside care, to teaching and leadership roles where they are well-recognized for their own research in best practices and improved patient outcomes. Advanced degrees and certification are now commonplace and encouraged.
Forty years after a nursing shortage gripped the nation, healthcare institutions have entered a new era of need for nurses – but for different reasons. While many continue to care for patients at the bedside, nurses have become highly specialized and are in demand for other roles, serving as educators, nurse practitioners, or in leadership positions.
More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic challenged nurses, some of whom experienced fatigue and left the profession. Some nearing the end of their careers took early retirement. In addition to COVID, Wright says that one of the most influential things to change nursing in recent history is evolving technology. Nurses have had to adapt to new technology and learn to balance it with the human factors of nursing. To complete documentation while providing bedside patient care means that nurses must maintain a careful balance of being detail-oriented and accurate, while delivering personal and compassionate care.
For people considering nursing as a career, Wright offers perspective. “I cannot imagine doing anything else in my life. It was truly a calling for me. Nursing is both a skill and an art. The skill is to make decisions and see those decisions produce good outcomes for patients. The art is the art of human connection. A nurse is there when you take your first breath and your last. It is a rich journey in professional and personal growth.” For those considering entering the profession, she advises them to talk to a nurse, shadow, or find an organization that aligns with one’s own personal values.
With retirement just a few weeks away, Wright reflects on her decision to exit when she did. “I have been considering it for some time. It has been a personal decision.” Witnessing the effects of the pandemic on her own family as her father was critically ill with cancer gave her pause. She has a new perspective on the importance of not waiting to spend time with family members.
“I want to ensure I have plenty of time for my family – my husband, my sons, and my mother,” Wright said. “After I rest, I will explore volunteer opportunities and how I can impact the community and people. I cannot imagine sitting still for very long.”
Baptist Health Hardin has recently selected a new chief nursing officer who will join the leadership team in January 2023. “My hope is that the next CNO is as richly blessed as I have been. It is a wonderful family and organization and a rich learning experience.”