Colleague Q&As

Colleague Q&A: CEO Barbara Simmons — A Life of Opportunities with
HCA Healthcare

December 18, 2023

A remarkable career journey comes
full circle

Barbara J. Simmons, RN, has spent her entire professional life with HCA Healthcare, an impressive career that began in 1975 when she was a 19-year-old graduate nurse at Plantation General Hospital in Plantation, Florida. She rose through the ranks to nurse educator on the orthopedic unit, to critical care registered nurse, and then to nurse supervisor. In 1991, she became assistant director of Nursing and was then promoted to chief operating officer in 1996. A decade later, she became Plantation General’s chief executive officer.

In 2011, Barbara was hired as CEO at HCA Florida Mercy Hospital in Miami, Florida, spearheading the transition of the facility shortly after it was acquired by HCA Healthcare. After three years, she returned home to become CEO at HCA Florida Westside Hospital in Plantation.

Barbara recently celebrated her 48th year with HCA Healthcare.

Q: What drew you to nursing?

A: As early as I can remember, I wanted to be a nurse and take care of people. There was no particular lightning bolt. It was just something I always knew I wanted to do and planned to do. I went to Broward Junior College [now called Broward College] right from high school and never wavered.

Q: How was the initial transition into management different from your bedside nursing experience?

A: I was the critical care nursing supervisor, but in my mind, I was still providing nursing care. I was very much a hands-on supervisor. If they needed a nursing supervisor on a weekend, if I needed to work a night shift, we did what we had to do to get the job done. I was in scrubs every day for probably 20 years, from 1975 to 1995. Then I became the chief operating officer in 1996. That’s when I really stepped away from wearing scrubs every day.

Q: What was the draw of a management position?

A: I always wanted to learn and grow. I always tell everybody, “Never stop learning; never stop growing.” And a lot of it was just hard work and being in the right place at the right time. I always had a thirst for knowledge, and opportunities came along.

Q: Did you miss working directly with patients?

A: I always say, “Once a nurse, always a nurse,” no matter what your title.

Q: How did your nursing background prepare you for management?

A: Being a nurse prepared me to be a CEO [more] than a finance class [would have] because you learn the assessment skills, the organizational skills. And you learn why you’re here each and every day — that’s to take care of patients.

I really believe that we give quality patient care. And then there’s our people. You’ve got to take care of your people because they’re taking care of the patients.

— Barbara Simmons, CEO, HCA Florida Westside Hospital

Q: When you think of the impact you’ve been able to make, what comes to mind?

A: At Plantation General, we developed what I call the “ships.” I took a core team of leaders — managers — and we created the ships, and then we educated the entire organization about the ships: workmanship, ownership, partnership, leadership and stewardship. We really were able to change the culture of the entire organization.

Q: What brought you back to Westside in Broward County after your time elsewhere?

A: I was at Plantation General from 1975 to 2011. I still had a lot of deep roots and connections to the community. I was very involved in chamber [of commerce] activities and the American Heart Association. I had a lot of relationships and a lot of love for the Plantation community. When my boss called me and said, “Do you want to come home?” I jumped at the chance.

Q: What did you find?

A: I saw it as an opportunity. There were a lot of good people here, but there was a lot of opportunity to improve processes. Westside had an opportunity to really be part of the community.

Q: How have you seen that opportunity come to life?

A: The community needs to know who we are and what services we offer. Here at Westside, we’ve created a Graduate Medical Education program for residents. Part of my job is to make sure the community knows they have a teaching hospital in their own backyard. We really have totally improved the quality of the care here, with new programs and physicians.

Q: What’s most rewarding about your job?

A: This is one of my catchphrases: “Thank you for everything you do for our patients, our community and, most importantly, each other.” I really believe that we give quality patient care. And then there’s our people. You’ve got to take care of your people because they’re taking care of the patients.

Q: How would you describe this remarkable relationship that you’ve had with HCA Healthcare for almost 50 years?

A: I’m an HCA Healthcare lifer. I think about what HCA Healthcare did for me personally. I had the opportunity to go from a graduate nurse to a CEO in three hospitals. So I always tell colleagues when I do orientation, “I am the poster child for ‘anything is possible if you work hard’; it’s here for you in the HCA Healthcare world.”