Meet our Chief Nursing Officer, David Gardner

By Kristy Bleizeffer Jun 14, 2017

David Gardner’s career in health care has taken him across the United States. He started in Maine (where he grew up and went to paramedic and nursing school), stopped off in coastal cities like San Diego, Charleston, S.C., and Pensacola, Fla., during his 11 years as a Navy nurse, and worked at larger hospitals across the South as a civilian. He most recently served as Vice President of Patient Care at the Elvis Presley Trauma Center and Firefighter Burn Center in Memphis, Tenn.

But what he’s found so far in Casper, Wyo., has pleasantly surprised him: “There is just so much history here. You have the Oregon Trail, the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center and The Tate Geological Museum. There’s the Nic and the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra, and  I think my 12- year-old is an aspiring artist,” said Gardner, Wyoming Medical Center’s new Senior Vice President  and Chief Nursing Officer.

“The people are really friendly. It is a small town, but at the same time it is city. I do not know if that is part of the frontier life where everybody has to work together for mutual survival, but you can sense it here.”

Gardner has been on the job for about seven weeks. As chief nursing officer, Gardner oversees and coordinates the more than 600 individuals from nursing, pharmacy, radiology and laboratory at Wyoming Medical Center, the people on the frontlines of the care people receive here.

We sat down with him to talk about the upcoming challenges of health care and why he thinks Wyoming Medical Center is a “special place.”

HOW DID YOU GET INTO HEALTH CARE?

My father was a paramedic, so when I was in high school he would take me on ambulance rides and I would hear his stories. This was the pre-HIPAA days.

During my senior year in high school, I went to the EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) school and then actually did my EMT in critical care. I had to wait until my 18th birthday to get my license. I was a paramedic in Maine from 1989 until 1995 while I went to school. That helped pay for school, but it was also a great introduction into how health care works from the field to the hospital.

In addition to being a paramedic, my father was also a pastor. We moved a lot when I was a kid. The thing about in the field EMS/paramedics is that every call is different. You get to go on a car accident, which is tragic, or to the birth of a new baby; so you get to see the whole spectrum of life and it is always different and always changing.

WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO PURSUE NURSING AND THEN ADMINISTRATION?

As a paramedic, I saw health care in action. I saw the tragedies, but I saw the glorious moments also. It was what I wanted to do the rest of my life. I wanted to touch people's lives.

The natural progression was to go into nursing. I knew lots of physicians and I knew lots of paramedics who had gone on to medical school. For me, it was nursing. So I went to the University of Maine at Fort Kent and got my bachelor's degree in nursing. I went on to be a Navy nurse for 11 years. I have been a civilian nurse now for 11 years.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR NAVY CAREER.

My first duty station was in San Diego, Calif. I was in San Diego for four years and worked in critical care.

In 1996, I was on the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk. In 1999, I was on the U.S.S. Essex. I moved from San Diego to Pensacola, Fla., to the Navy hospital. My first management job was as assistant manager of an urgent care clinic there.

I was getting out of the Navy, and I was actually going to be a Navy chaplain. So, I started to go to seminary and then 9/11 happened and everything changed. I was deployed to Cuba to work with the detainees in Guantanamo Bay.

WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO CARE FOR DETAINEES IN THE WAR ON TERROR?

We had a full service hospital in Guantanamo Bay. We had internal medicine, we had surgery, we had infectious disease. We provided very good care to the detainees. It was as good a hospital as any community hospital you’d find on the mainland.

One of the cornerstones of nursing is recognizing the inherent worth and dignity of every person. So, even though I was there as a member of the military, I still treated them as I would any other human or any other patient. There is still a presumption of innocence for the people there. They have not been tried or convicted.

WHAT DID YOU DO WHEN YOU GOT OUT OF THE NAVY?

I went to Charleston. I worked for Healthcare of America (HCA) as director of a telemetry unit and then a step-down unit. My first critical care in the civilian world was when I moved to Aken, S.C.,  and worked for Universal Health Systems (UHS), and I worked for a medical college in Augusta, Ga.

I had my first executive roll in Memphis, Tenn., as vice president of patient care services at Elvis Presley Trauma Center.

HOW DOES YOUR SEMINARY TRAINING HELP IN NURSING MANAGEMENT?  

I have four master's degrees, three of which I think are relevant. Ever since the advent of HMO, there has been limitless tension between health care itself and the business component. With diminishing reimbursement, unfunded patients that need really excellent care, you have this tension that creates an ethical dilemma between the health care and the business.

For the healthcare piece, I have a Master of Science in Nursing. For the business piece I have an MBA; but a lot of graduate credits in ethics to relieve that tension.

I also have a Masters of Divinity from Luther Rice University and Seminary. I feel that health care is a ministry to people. We take care of them and their families at their lowest points. We have to do it in a way that provides quality care, but it is also fiscally responsible; but we need to be ethical and we need to be caring.  I think it’s the balance of those three. We need to ethically take care of patients and their families and really look as a ministry to those who cannot take care of themselves anymore.

HOW DID YOU CHOOSE WYOMING MEDICAL CENTER?

It was just a perfect match. I have a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old. I grew up in Maine and I wanted them to see a Maine-like environment. Wyoming is not that different. We get the full winters. Casper is a beautiful city. It is a safe city. It has everything you would want in a small city with restaurants, the symphony, the Nic and the art.

Then, you have this gem of Wyoming Medical Center. During the Interview Sessions, I met 80 different people across this organization, and I knew this is where I wanted to be. These are the kind of people I wanted to share my life with. This organization has a great mission and takes care of half of the state. You have a great city, a great leadership team and great facility; a perfect  marriage.

ARE YOU SURPRISED BY THE LEVEL OF SPECIALIZED CARE IN CASPER, IN SUCH A RELATIVELY RURAL AREA?

The level of care that we have here — in terms of our trauma surgeons, our heart surgeons, neurosurgeons —is something you would think of in a city of 500,000 people, and not in little Casper. The hospital has obviously invested every extra dollar in bringing the best doctors, nurses and equipment here. It really should be a destination hospital.

WHAT ARE YOU EXCITED TO GET TO WORK ON?

One of the values of Wyoming Medical Center is to “see beyond the horizon.” We know there is going to be a national shortage of nurses; hundreds of thousands of nurses short by 2030. Wyoming has some great leverage points that is going to let us provide a level of nursing care that maybe other places do not. It is going to be unique to us to look over the horizon and see how we are going to take care of people 13 years from now.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES THAT YOU SEE?

With all the changes around the Affordable Care Act and Wyoming’s up and down mineral economy, the leadership team is really positioning Wyoming Medical Center to be ready. The nice thing about the hospital is that, again, is that our nurses are really taking care of friends and families. That is unique. We have multiple family members that all serve inside the same hospital, so it is assured mutual benefit. If I do a good job, you get to keep your job also. It is this regional trauma center, but it is family at the same time. This is a special place.

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