Velinda J. Block, DNP, RN, NEA-BC
Division Chief Nurse Executive
HCA Healthcare TriStar Division
From the time she was young, Dr. Velinda Block wanted to be a nurse. A fan of the Sue Barton nursing book series, the profession sounded romantic and exciting.
Block's father, a professor and botanist, helped her connect with a nurse to better understand the field and all it entailed. "I had the opportunity to shadow this nurse and saw first-hand what an impact she had on patients and their families," Block recalled. "I saw the high level of knowledge she possessed and that the physician truly respected her insights into care. I was in awe watching her and knew that I wanted to be able to make that kind of difference for people."
Block began her career as a NICU nurse after earning her undergraduate degree from the Medical College of Georgia School of Nursing. She earned her master's from Vanderbilt University School of Nursing in 1989 and completed her doctorate in 2010 from the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB) School of Nursing.
Both at the bedside, and later in nursing administration, Block said keeping patients and their families as the central focus has been what she loves the most. "As nurses, we get to be with people at their best times and at their worst times. When they are most vulnerable - they let us into their lives," Block said of a responsibility she doesn't take lightly.
Her parents were both educators, and Block said they certainly served as role models for her career. They instilled a love of learning and modeled the importance of empathy. "They taught us hard work, the importance of education, do what you say you will do, and compassion for mankind," she said.
Perhaps it was her parents' profession that has made Block so passionate about patient education and the challenges presented by a lack of health literacy, which is often compounded by barriers resulting from poor social determinants. "So many people have limited access to knowledge," Block pointed out. "It is sad to see, and people can be judgmental without stopping to think, 'How would I do it if I had to walk a mile in their shoes?'"
Moving into nursing administration, Block now has the opportunity to impact patients in a different way. "I work to help create strong nurse leaders, and those people touch frontline nurses every day, making jobs and systems work better," she explained.
Block said Ted Frey, the CEO at St. Louis Children's Hospital who hired her for her first executive role, and Mike Waldrum, MD, the CEO at UAB who is a passionate advocate for quality and safety, both played key roles in shaping her worldview as a nurse executive. "Ted believed in my leadership ability and made me part of an amazing team. He taught me the importance of always keeping mission first," Block explained. Waldrum, she continued, "taught me the importance of total transparency and that you should always 'look upstream' before coming to a conclusion."
In early 2017, Block accepted a new leadership challenge with HCA Healthcare's TriStar Division. Today, she has overall responsibility for nursing across 19 hospitals in Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky. "We have an aggressive three-year strategic plan for nursing at HCA that I want us to successfully achieve," Block said of her goals. "Doing this will deliver top decile clinical outcomes and patient experience, zero harm and a practice environment that attracts and keeps bright nursing professionals."
The first step in providing the highest quality care, however, is making sure there are enough nurses to deliver it. "There's such a demand for healthcare services, and we still don't have enough nurses graduating from our schools. I'm very passionate about how we can continue to promote the nursing profession," she explained. On the plus side, Block said accelerated nursing programs are attracting clinicians with different backgrounds and skills. "We're seeing a lot more diversity in terms of who we're recruiting into the field, and that's wonderful."
When she isn't working, Block likes to unwind by gardening, cooking and entertaining with husband Branson, a retired nurse and leader in the OR, at their townhouse in Nashville and at their lake house where they have fruit trees and vegetable gardens. With a graduate degree in public health, their grown son Cole, who now lives in the Atlanta area, has inherited his parents' focus on addressing population needs to optimize health.
Although there are many challenges in healthcare, Block said there is also much to celebrate. "I have been in healthcare for 36 years," she said. "The evolution of care and improvement in outcomes for people has been incredible to see and be a part of. I have never regretted my field choice and would do it all over again."