Jim Beck Brown M'99 is the kind of leader who places just as much emphasis on the needs of the business as he does the needs of his staff. As the chief executive officer of HCA Houston Healthcare North Cypress, Brown leads a team of about 1,100 employees—each of whom Brown sees as individuals whose experiences inside of work should positively impact their lives outside of work. “I look at it similarly to my parents who, as teachers, changed the lives of their students,” he says. “It’s just that I’m doing it with adults through my leadership and the culture that I set organizationally.”
Although it seems like the ideal fit, Brown was not always on the trajectory toward health care. In fact, he had originally intended to matriculate into law school but pivoted his path after becoming disillusioned with the idea. As a junior at Texas A&M, he began compiling a decision criteria of what he hoped his future career would entail: altruism, community engagement, economic stability, and a challenging, dynamic environment. Shortly after completing the list, Brown accepted an invitation to shadow a local hospital CEO during spring break. After just one day, Brown realized health care leadership met every item on his list and provided the level of fulfillment he desired. “It’s a career that found me,” Brown says. “I wasn’t looking in the medical field or health care industry, but I found something that met my interests.” In lieu of law school applications, Brown began searching for a master’s program in health care.
“As I surveyed the landscape of Texas,” Brown explains, “what I saw was that many of the large health systems were being led by Trinity alumni.” He researched further, found a pipeline of Aggies who became Tigers, and “felt that [Trinity] was going to be the best decision.” During his days as a student, Brown recalls the small class sizes, intimate friend groups, experiential learning opportunities, and an expansive network of Health Care Administration (HCAD) alumni. He credits many of his opportunities to the alumni network, which served as motivation for his return to the program as an HCAD Advisory Board Member. “My time at Trinity definitely changed my life,” he says. “It allowed me to achieve things professionally that have enabled me to fulfill my life goals for me and my children. As such, it’s important for me to give back…not only with my time but also philanthropically.”
Now in his 23rd year in the profession, Brown continues to lead in a challenging and dynamic environment. He describes the COVID-19 years as the most strenuous of his career. Early on, he emphasized establishing precautions to protect non-COVID-19 patients and workforce members, while continuing to serve the community. The latter stretch brought with it an immense emotional toil that continues to weigh on nurses and staff members, even as cases subside. Simultaneously, Brown was responsible for protecting the business in the long-term, maintaining solvency so jobs continued to be available and the hospital continued to operate. Yet as they emerged from pandemic protocol, health care systems across the country faced a new threat: staffing shortages.
With vacancy rates at all-time highs, Brown applies the adaptive skills and creative problem solving techniques he developed as a student to keep the hospital running. “An innovation we experienced through this is that we began to lean more heavily on new graduate nurses,” he says. By focusing on the cohort of new graduates, HCA Houston North Cypress has successfully onboarded 100 nurses in the last year. This process not only eases the burden on current staff members, but also accelerates the careers of the incoming workforce. “Outside of the current labor market,” Brown says, “[the new nurses] may have had to wait two or three years to obtain critical care experience.” To accomplish this, Brown and his team leveraged HCA’s Specialty Training Apprenticeship for Registered Nurses (StaRN) model, adapted it for their needs, and increased training and on-boarding resources to accommodate the influx of new hires.
Knowing many health systems now have “a clinical team that has experienced the worst environment imaginable,” Brown acknowledges that it may take the next year or more to manage the after effects. In the immediate, however, Brown reflects, “We have reshaped nursing culture with the active recruitment and training that we’ve undertaken. I’m optimistic based on the resilience that I’ve seen of our staff that we will be very capable of embracing whatever challenge may come.”