By TYLER MASK
Some don't know what career path is for them until they're immersed in it, others choose a career early on and pursue their dreams. For one Mineral Wells man, it was a combination of factors that lead him to his career, including fate.
Palo Pinto General Hospital ICU and Cardiopulmonary Director Robert Clark, RN, CCRN, didn't start out as a nurse, but believes he made a perfect landing after his life experiences and jobs prior.
A Breckenridge native, Clark was born into a hard-working family of poverty, leaving Clark's only chance for college to himself.
“My parents told me when I was very young, 'If you want to make something of yourself, if you want to go to college, you're going to have to work for it,'” Clark said. “I took that very seriously.”
The day Clark turned 16, he began working full-time, saving money for the next four years of his life. To coordinate with his high school schedule, Clark worked nightshift at a grocery store and slept during the afternoons.
When he finally graduated high school he had saved enough money to pay his way through all four years of college.
After finishing college, Clark began pursuing his first career as a high school agricultural teacher. Clark recalls many governmental changes in the field of education, particularly regulations, and a lack of openings, so he joined the air force in light of his recent marriage.
Although his dreams of being a teacher seemed gone for a moment, the air force put him through electronic school, where he hoped to become an instructor. Nevertheless, another serious factor fell into Clark's lap in the form a newborn daughter – but the drastic changes don't stop there.
After the birth of his daughter Clark was suddenly hit by divorce. Clark ended up heading home to Breckenridge to raise his child, where he began working as an aircraft builder.
“It was good money, and the hours were to where I could raise my daughter,” Clark said. “I raised my daughter from a newborn till she was grown by myself.”
While Clark was raising his daughter, his interest in the medical field began to bloom.
“Being a parent, you have to learn some about medical issues,” Clark said.
Eventually he was given an opportunity at his local college to pursue more education and decided to go through Emergency Medical Technician training. After graduating, he began work as an EMT on the side of his air craft job.
As fate would have it, another change in the economy occurred and there was a decline in jobs in Breckenridge. At this time, Clark received one more opportunity to go back to school, where he pursued his final degree in nursing.
Throughout his time in nursing school, Clark caught on fast.
“Learning, as far as nursing went, I learned it very quickly and easily,” Clark said. “I didn't have the luxury of a lot of time to sit and study at home, but it came to me very quickly and easily.”
Clark worked both in Abilene and in Mineral Wells during his time in nursing school. What eventually led Clark to Mineral Well altogether was the ICU Director spotting his hard work.
“During the time I was in nursing school, I was doing clinicals here and the manager of the ICU was impressed with my abilities at that time,” Clark said. “ [He] kept bugging me to come here to work. They finally persuaded me... and I finally gave in and said, 'Fine. Okay, I'll come here.'”
As soon as Clark graduated from nursing school, he immediately began working in ICU.
Fast forward 19 years, he is still in ICU.
The thing Clark finds most interesting about where he landed is that he feels all of his training has culminated together.
Clark's desire to teach never died. On a regular basis, he teaches classes to the hospital staff. He has been an instructor for the American Heart Association, teaching advanced cardiac life-support classes for more than 20 years.
Even his military degree in electronics goes to work for him, helping him utilize an ever-changing array of medical equipment in a creative and proactive manner.
“Many years ago, I was able to talk the hospital into getting a vascular ultrasound machine – something that most hospitals at that time didn't have, and I perfected a technique to start IVs with ultrasound guidance.”
Not only does all of PPGH utilize Clark's abilities, but even hospitals from Fort Worth and Weatherford send patients needing IVs to Clark. Whether veins are too small or too deep to hit, Clark's track record is flawless with his ultrasound technique, he said.
“Almost daily, they call me from all over the hospital,” Clark said. “When they can't get an IV started, they call me.”
Beyond Clark's list of technological innovations, Clark goes the second mile for patients and staff. From voluntarily being on call through the weekends, to making night visits when needed, Clark always puts others before himself.
“I'm and old school nurse,” Clark said. “My primary goal is to care for patients. I treat every patient special. I don't care whether they're the richest person in the county or living under a bridge, they're treated exactly the same by me. Patient satisfaction has always been important to me as well as employee satisfaction. I take care of my staff.”
From fixing vehicles to helping with house repairs, Clark goes a third mile to ensure his staff are doing well in the field and at home. To make things better, he even prepares meals for his staff on days that are extremely busy and stressful. Yesterday, he made bean soup.
“I have zero turnover rate in this department,” Clark said. “I don't have people quitting – I don't have to worry about that. They are happy here. They work hard for me. They are very loyal... And if you have happy staff, you're gonna have happier patients because they relate to that.”
To say that Clark loves his job would be an understatement. In fact, he has even inspired his wife of 10 years to pursue nursing.
“It was almost like fate, what I ended up doing for a living,” Clark said.