As an only child in England, Sue Parkes received some career advice from her father that helped her chart a course for her life.

“He said, ‘If you go into nursing, you’ll never be without a friend,’” Parkes recalls. “That was an important thing for me, having grown up without any siblings. I realized nursing could be an ideal career path, in a field I enjoyed. The day I started, I had 30 people I could call my friends.”

Her classmates gave her unwavering support in the early days. She became an RN in 1987, received a second qualification in midwifery in 1990, and worked her way up to nurse manager during her 15 years at Blackpool Hospital. She subsequently took a position with Dartboard Hospital. That facility was built on the banks of the Thames River, just outside London, to treat outbreaks of scarlet fever in the 1800s.

“It was very antiquated,” she says. “Patients had to go from one building to another outside. It felt like you would meet Florence Nightingale around every turn!”

Coming to America

Parkes always planned to work in the U.S., and in 2001 she moved to Boston with her husband and 10-month-old twins. She worked at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge until 2006, when she decided another change was in order.

“My twins were five years old and I was looking for somewhere with a good quality of life and warmer weather!” says Parkes. “I visited the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CV-ICU) at Centennial. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming — I didn’t want to apply anywhere else. The minute I walked in, I felt like it was home.”

In her 12 years at Tristar Centennial Medical Center, Parkes progressed through the CV unit from staff nurse to charge nurse to nurse manager. Today, she ensures the unit is functioning at 100 percent, which includes anything from finances to quality to communications. She feels lucky to see daily her team’s effect on patients.

“We have a great team of nurses we’ve nurtured,” she says. “When patients tell me about the nurse they had and give me their name, I know we’re having an impact. I like helping nurses make our patients happy.”

Honor in action

Those results get noticed: Parkes’s team won the 2017 Unit of Distinction award for critical care. With an 84 percent employee engagement and 100 percent leader rounding, the numbers speak for themselves.

“We were so humbled,” says Parkes. “We’re a team — I have a strong group of charge nurses, an assistant manager who supports me, and nurses who are motivated — and I don’t think you can get a better recognition than this award.”

For Parkes, Centennial stands out because they’ve supported her growth, and she’s inspired to see HCA doing the same for the nurses working alongside her.

“Twenty years ago, if someone said they were leaving to work on a different unit, their colleagues felt like they were being abandoned,” says Parkes. “At HCA, we are proud. We think, ‘That nurse is ready for the next step,’ and we want to encourage that. In the past, nurses had to choose to stay in the hospital or leave. Today, nurses can flourish anywhere and still touch the patient one way or another. This is why we become nurses in the first place!”

Whatever route they choose, Parkes believes all nurses need three things.

“You need drive to stay committed; you have to be willing to communicate, get feedback and respond to it; and you have to be compassionate,” she says. “We treat our nurses and patients as if they’re part of our families, and that makes all the difference.”

SUE PARKES, BSN, RN, CNML

Nurse Manager, Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit,

TriStar Centennial Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee