RTs in the C-Suite: Charity Clark Shares Her Journey to Chief Operating Officer

September 25, 2023

Charity Clark, MSOHRD, BSRT, RRT, first developed an interest in working in health care as a child growing up in a small town in Nebraska. Her aunt was an administrator at the local hospital, and Clark would often ride her bike over to the facility to visit.

“We would get a glass bottle of soda out of the vending machine and walk around the facility,” she said. “I was in awe of the hospital environment and the love of my aunt.”

By the time she was ready for high school, her family had moved to Plano, TX, and she counts herself lucky that the school she attended there had a Health Occupations Students of America program. “This was an amazing experience and it allowed me to spend time shadowing with different professions,” she said.

She initially decided to pursue medicine in college but her counselor at the University of Kansas just happened to be a respiratory therapist and member of the respiratory care faculty. Before long she was switching her major.

“By my second semester of my freshman year, I was on track to complete my bachelor’s degree in respiratory care,” said Clark. “I loved every opportunity the program offered, and to this day could close my eyes and step back into many amazing clinical rotations across Kansas City.”

Climbing the ladder

Clark went to work as a bedside RT while finishing her degree in 1999 but by the fall of 2003 had been tapped to take on a managerial role at her hospital at the time, Ascension Via Christi Hospitals in Wichita, KS.

From there it was a steady climb up the ladder, from department manager to clinical practice manager to director of case management/transitional care. She wasn’t really looking for a change when the COO position at McPherson Hospital in McPherson, KS, came to her attention in 2021 but it was too interesting to turn down.

“The COO position at McPherson Hospital was being filled on an interim basis by a wonderful leader who I knew from a past experience when I served on a panel of leaders for her health care management students at Wichita State University,” explained Clark. “When visiting with her about the position it felt like a natural progression for me, and it offered me a challenge to grow in my career.”

She brought both the right educational background and experience to the job. Clark earned her master of science in organizational and human resource development from Abilene Christian University in 2014, and she says having served in various leadership roles in both the acute care and outpatient settings matched the need.

“My experience serving under finance in the director of case management and utilization review position provided a strong understanding of the revenue cycle, too,” she said. ”Coupling operations, financial performance, and CMS rules and regulations with a clinical background offered well-rounded knowledge, which is ideal for a senior leadership role.”

Wide range of operations

As COO, Clark oversees a wide range of operations in the hospital, from the physician clinics and the pharmacy to education and patient experience, rehabilitation services, wound care, and more. Respiratory care and the sleep lab center of course fall under her purview as well.

“I feel my role is to support amazing leaders working to live out the organization’s mission to provide ‘superior health care and exceptional service for each person every time,’” said Clark. “Most of my days include a variety of working collaboratively with all departments providing day-today operations, evaluating performance data, looking at gaps we seek to close, and strategizing for growth in the future.”

She works hard to cultivate and nurture other leaders along the way and seeks out opportunities to foster innovative care and improve the patient experience.

The biggest challenge she faces is finding enough time in the day to do everything she wants to do to support her teams. “The organization, communication, strategic planning, and financial management is important when overseeing activities across the entire continuum of care,” she emphasized.

RT background invaluable

Clark believes her RT background provided her with the foundational experience across the hospital that she needs to succeed in the job. ”Working clinically as an RT allowed me to collaborate with multiple departments,” she said. ”Today I feel that a strength of our organization is the ability to come together as a multidisciplinary team with the patient in the center.”

She has maintained a direct connection to patient care throughout much of her career as well, by taking on PRN positions at facilities outside of her core market area. “For eight years while serving in a leadership role, I traveled out of our market area and served in a PRN RT role a couple weekends a month for a hospital 90 miles from my house,” she said. “This filled my cup, as my first love for health care will always be direct patient care.”

She’s even pulled on her scrubs a few times to lend a hand during times of critical need at McPherson over the two years she has spent as COO.

“I have learned many valuable lessons in my time as an RT,” said Clark. ”Over the last three years with COVID, I would say my experience to remain calm in emergent situations has proved to serve me well. I found many skills that I had developed at the bedside were used in leading incident command and adjusting quickly to the need at hand while keeping the patient at the center of decision-making.”

Three great tips

Clark enjoys the creativity that comes with being COO and the ability the job gives her to make a positive impact on patient care. The time she spends with the community and patients, in particular through the hospital’s Patient Family Advocacy Council, is priceless. Regardless of the challenge, she is always ready to step up to the plate.

“Let’s just say I’m never bored,” she said, “I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Charity Clark has these three tips for anyone aspiring to the C-suites in their careers as well —

  1. Get involved! Someone once told me to get to the table and be a part of the solution. I believe that is why I am where I am today.
  2. Seek to understand. Don’t assume you know. Listen to learn.
  3. Even a good leader needs a good leader. Find a mentor, someone you admire to be like. Spend time with them and let them help you grow.

Heading to the New Era

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