When Donna Boatright began her career in the health care industry, she was drawn to the nursing occupation because she could get a job anywhere. When she discovered that caring for patients in her rural community was her passion, she stayed at Rolling Plains Memorial Hospital – located off the eponymous Boatright Way in Sweetwater, Tex.

Donna began her career at RPMH as an ICU staff nurse in 1977. She later advanced to assistant director of nursing, then director of nursing. In 1995, she became the associate administrator of the hospital until finally assuming the role of CEO in 2009.

In June 2020, after four months of a global pandemic and 43 years of service, Donna retired from RPMH. Over the course of her prolific career, Donna championed rural health issues as a clinician, administrator and through her membership in the Texas Hospital Association, the American Hospital Association, the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals and the Texas Organization of Nursing Executives.

In January 2021, Donna was presented with the Texas Hospital Association’s Trustee Award, the highest award given to an individual not directly involved in hospital management. In its entire history, THA has only presented 14 individuals with the Trustee Award, further exemplifying Donna’s outstanding contributions to the better health of all Texans.

THA recently caught up with the newly retired health care executive to look back on her career.

When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A marine biologist, but that wouldn’t work because I get seasick.

What catalyzed your decision to pursue nursing?

I loved the sciences and I was interested in a field that was transportable so I could get a job anywhere. Ironically, I ended up staying in my hometown for four decades.

What inspires you the most about the health care industry?

It is such a blend of science, art and caring. Everyone benefits from a healthier community and quality medical care. I also like being part of a team and something bigger than myself. God has blessed me with the most wonderful friendships with servant leaders. I have found inspiration in their ability to do more with less and always put their communities and staff first.

What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in your career that you’ve applied to other areas of your life?

Life is precious and humans are resilient. There are lessons to be learned daily in how to improve, care more, and lighten up a bit because what we do can be very weighty. I believe the lesson I am still learning is not to judge others, their choices are not up to me.

What’s been the most memorable moment of your career?

There is probably not just one, but I remember times when what I could do and what my team could do was life changing. One specific situation in my early career involved a very serious mass casualty event with children, and the way we came together to respond to their needs and the needs of their families had a huge impact on my career and life. Later in my career, I felt the opportunities to make contributions to rural health through advocacy have been very meaningful.

Who is your biggest source of inspiration?

I have been blessed with a wonderful husband and children and have had several inspirational mentors, and some tremendous colleagues. Tom Kennedy, who was recognized with a THA Trustee Award in 2010 was a mentor to me for almost 20 years.

Ultimately, I would have to say my mother. She is the personification of perseverance and poise under pressure.

What did you find most valuable about being a member of THA?

As a hospital CEO, I found that THA provided so much support to me and my work through education, networking and most certainly through advocacy. THA provides an opportunity for hospitals of all sizes to speak up about issues of concern or interest, and they provide a platform for promoting health care and the needs of our patients and staff.

I gained so much from my affiliation with THA over the years and I am certain that the relationships I built with the THA team and colleagues gained through that relationship enriched my experience as a CEO and brought fulfillment in my work.

Now that you are retired, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Due to COVID-19, some of my plans, like spending time with my grandkids, have been put on hold. I enjoy just being able to have a quiet cup of coffee in the morning and making lunch for my husband. Sounds very unexciting, but having never had the luxury of time, it is amazing. I even have time to read! I also keep up with what is going on in health care because it is just part of my DNA. I have also been taking some online courses with my mom on different countries, which turns out to be a good substitute for actual travel in the time of COVID-19.