Caroline Stewart, MBA, MSN, RN - Chief Nursing Officer, Citrus Memorial Hospital
A career in healthcare was always on Caroline Stewart’s radar. Her 30-year career journey has taken some twists and turns along the way, including into nursing leadership, but her sights clearly have been set on her ultimate goal — to have a positive affect on people’s lives.
Growing up in Louisiana, Stewart witnessed firsthand how substandard healthcare can hurt a community. She enrolled in the pre-med program at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, but after two years changed her major to nursing.
“I watched my grandparents pass away because they didn’t receive optimal healthcare. At that young age, I decided I wanted to do something meaningful for patients and families,” she said. “Nursing offered the best of both worlds for me; it’s scientific but also an art, as we help patients and families get through tough times, sometimes getting better but sometimes transitioning to the next life.”
After earning her RN, and bachelors and master’s degrees in nursing, Stewart started her career as a critical care nurse. After six years, she became a home health nurse, caring for cardiac patients who were waiting for heart transplants. But she missed the hospital setting. She became a shock-trauma Intensive Care nurse at Memorial Hermann Medical Center in Houston, where she stayed for 13 years. It was there her journey to management began.
“I always thought I’d be a Ph.D. nurse at the bedside. I loved critical care patients and being there for families. I didn’t have a desire to start on a management track,” she said. “But a director recognized my potential. She’d watched my performance and practice as a bedside nurse — when patients were transferred to her unit, I’d go and educate the nurses about the patient’s condition and care plan.
“She needed a manager and wanted someone who could teach,” she continued. “I didn’t think it’s what I wanted to do, but I thought if I can affect one or two patients, I could affect the whole unit. I told her, ‘I’ll try it out see if I like it.’ I never turned back.”
Stewart went on to serve as director of education for the hospital’s 4,000 employees and, in 2010, started her journey with HCA at an orthopedic hospital in Houston. After 18 months, she was selected for HCA’s executive development program and then was promoted to associate chief nursing officer. She was promoted to chief nursing officer and moved to CMH in 2015.
“This CMH journey was a whirlwind transition and we haven’t slowed down,” said Stewart. “A lot of people were committed to elevating our nursing practice here and increasing the education level of our staff. My nurses are back in school getting bachelor and master’s degrees and earning certifications — one recently got her doctorate. HCA helps with tuition and we tell them the sky is the limit.”
Seeing smiling nurses and patients being cared for brings Stewart the greatest satisfaction. And she still likes being at the bedside.
“When I come to work every day, I pray that I impact someone’s life,” she said. “When I see my nurses smiling and see them wanting to be part of the discussion, it makes me happy. I am fulfilled when I can round and meet with patients. It’s something I do every day at the hospital.”
Because of her Louisiana roots, Stewart easily made the transition from Houston to Citrus County. Although she is busy studying for her Ph.D., she found time to get involved in the community through Leadership Citrus and a love of exploring.
“Citrus County felt like home to me,” she said. “The community embraced me, and the hospital always felt like I was home. The staff here is a great group of people who are committed to our community.”
Stewart has three grown children and enjoys going back to Louisiana to visit her daughter, and to Houston to visit her sons. Although she made a home in Citrus County, her career journey will soon take her to Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, an HCA hospital in Florida’s Panhandle.
“I’ve loved being here in Citrus County, but I’m excited at a new opportunity and to be closer to my children,” she said. “My goal for every place I work is to have our staff love our patients like they are family. CMH is getting more business because of all the good work we do. People know they can trust us with their loved ones.”