40 years and going strong

March 31, 2022  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,
Hilary King began working at Michigan Medicine as a temporary LPN in 1981.

To close out Women’s History Month, Headlines caught up with Hilary King, M.S., R.N. — recently named associate chief operating officer for Cardiovascular and Neurosciences Programs in the Adult Hospitals segment at U-M Health — to discuss her long and successful career in health care. This year, King celebrates her own 40-year history at Michigan Medicine.

The oldest of three, King was born in Liverpool, England, and spent the first few years of her life in Europe. At the age of five, she moved with her family to Memphis, Tennessee, where her British father and American mother had met years earlier.

After graduating from high school, King attended the University of Tennessee and later moved to Michigan, where she earned her LPN and associate degree in nursing from Washtenaw Community College. She earned her BSN from Eastern Michigan University and master’s degree from the University of Michigan.

Since starting her Michigan Medicine career as a temporary LPN in 1981, King has served in a broad spectrum of roles — serving 23 years as a staff nurse, holding a variety of management positions, and leading the organization’s Emergency Management Operations (EMO) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q: What positions have you held over the years?

HK: Most of my staff nurse roles involved caring for cardiac surgery patients, including work in the thoracic ICU and as a clinical care coordinator for cardiac surgery. I moved into non-staff nursing roles in 2005 and have held a variety of positions since then:

  • Project manager on clinical activation of the Frankel Cardiovascular Center move-in
  • Staff specialist for a nursing director
  • Manager for surgical specialty clinics
  • Director of operational readiness and change management for Stage 3 MiChart (the inpatient rollout of the Electronic Health Record)
  • Administrative and then associate director of operations in the U-M Health Office of the Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, which included my role as the director of EMO 

Q: What has been your favorite role?

HK: Every role I’ve had at U-M has been incredibly rewarding and taught me new skills or things about myself that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I believe you have to grow wherever you are planted.  

Q: Is there one person who served as a key mentor or role model for you? 

HK: I was fortunate to spend the bulk of my career working with Dr. Mike Deeb, one of our cardiac surgeons. Dr. Deeb brought with him to Michigan Medicine the start of our heart transplant program. From there, we went on to learn about VADs (ventricular assist devices) and even total artificial heart implants.

I wanted to take on roles beyond my staff nurse position but needed to get my BSN to do so. Dr. Deeb encouraged me to do that while continuing to help me grow in my clinical expertise. When I served as a clinical care coordinator, we worked together to assure our patients got the best care possible. Dr. Deeb’s care and concern for his patients and their families, and the trust he put in the people who worked with him, taught me the importance of building inclusive teams and working together toward a shared goal. 

Q: What is your proudest career moment, and why?

HK: My proudest moment was helping a patient with a total artificial heart go out into the courtyard. He had been hospital-bound in the ICU for a very long time and begged us to take him outside. Our teams had gone to Utah for specialized training to care for patients like him. Together with his surgeon, PT/OT, perfusion and biomedical engineering, we did it! 

Q: Can you share some of the greatest challenges and rewards from your work leading EMO over the years, and especially during the pandemic?

HK: Assuring that you have the framework and tools to be ready for “all hazards” is no small task in a place like Michigan Medicine. We have so many everyday emergencies like floods and mechanical failures. The approach we have taken to create a partnership between operational teams and the EMO team is a critical reason for our success in response planning. 

The greatest challenge of the pandemic is that we’ve had to make really complex decisions and pivots to our plans in real time. In the first few weeks, the information, rules and number of patients requiring care fluctuated greatly. We had no idea what the first curve would look like and when it would end. Each of the subsequent waves has had unique differences to manage. 

One of the most rewarding things about leading EMO was being able to ensure that we were always prepared for surveyor visits. The last surveyor strongly encouraged us to share our model with others and said it was the best she had ever seen. 

Q: What stands out to you most about the way Michigan Medicine responded to the pandemic?

HK: It has been incredible to see our teams show up and give more than seemed humanly possible. Two years later, the teams are weary, but they still give that same effort. It is the people who make this such a remarkable place to be. While we had one team activating the RICU (Regional Infectious Containment Unit) and staffing the hospitals in ways we’d never envisioned, we had another team figuring out how we could stand up a field hospital. Our teams just kept going from one challenge to the next.

Q: How have things changed in the last 40 years at Michigan Medicine?

HK: When we moved from ‘old main’ to University Hospital, we left behind the wards, the bats, partial air conditioning (by window units in the ICU only), and elevators that were manually run by elevator operators.

The safety that is in place for direct caregivers is much better today. We didn’t wear gloves when performing most patient care and there were no patient lifts or training on ergonomics. The technology advances in standard medical equipment, like bar code scanning, are truly remarkable.  

Q: How have things stayed the same?

HK: The people who work here still want the same thing they have always wanted — to be the best and take the best care of our patients and families, together. 

Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

HK: I enjoy spending time with my husband, Kevin. We love kayaking in the summer and look forward to getting back to traveling and live music events. My daughter Emma is a teacher in the Cleveland area and we are always glad to catch up with her. Our chocolate lab Hank keeps me company and makes occasional appearances on Zoom. 

Q: Tell us something you think your colleagues would be surprised to learn about you.

HK:   I dream of winning the lottery, quitting my job and going to cooking school just for fun! 

Q: 40 years is quite an accomplishment. What is it about Michigan Medicine that made you want to spend your career here?

HK: The variety of opportunities here has allowed me to grow and learn throughout the years. I am big believer that the grass isn’t usually greener, just different.