From age 15, Newton Medical Center Chief Clinical Officer Heather Porter knew what she wanted to do. Getting her start as a dietary aide at the nursing home in her hometown of Moundridge was the first of many steps she would end up taking in a career dedicated to helping others.

"Truly, it really is at my core — being a nurse," Porter said. "It just always spoke to me and was a passion of mine."

Working in the field, Porter continually climbed the rungs of the professional ladder from dietary aide to certified nursing assistant to earning her Bachelor's of Science in Nursing. She even worked as a medical/intensive care unit nurse at NMC for two years before pursuit of her master's degree turned her focus to case management and population health.

Both case management and population health have been central to Porter's role at NMC over the past 15 years and she admitted they will continue to be important factors in her new role as Chief Clinical Officer — as commitment to patients continues to push past the boundaries of the hospital.

"Instead of looking just at the acute care of the patient's illness, what we do — and that definitely is a primary goal of ours, to treat that acute episode of illness — we also look at what interventions need to occur before that illness and then after the illness," Porter said. "We're looking at a more holistic picture of the patient and that's what's been really exciting is to look at how you can help that patient be successful outside of our walls."

Patient care has always been important to Porter and is evidenced outside her work at the hospital, as she also serves on the board of the Missouri-Kansas American Case Management Association chapter, which advocates for regulatory changes for insurance coverage for patients.

Admitting the drive and passion for nursing always existed, Porter did say she has had great role models at NMC helping her go above and beyond in her patient care and make that extra commitment to successful treatment. For that dedication, Porter was recently recognized as a nominee for the Kansas Hospital Association's Health Care Worker of the Year award.

Receiving that recognition is a great honor, Porter said, though she was quick to note how much it is tied to the relationships she has fostered in her career at NMC, previous work (i.e. long-term care facilities) and out in the community (with Fire/EMS departments).

"It's humbling because I feel that award should really go to a good group of my peers because it's definitely taken a lot of collaborative effort," Porter said, "and I do have a good group of peers that if I've had an idea and I've researched it and figured out how we could apply that for our community, I've had great engagement with the multidisciplinary team of people both inside Newton Medical Center and outside Newton Medical Center."

Finding your passion and building relationships are keys to successfully getting involved and contributing to the community, Porter said. While her role with NMC may be more of an administrative one now, she is glad to have the continued chance to impact people's lives on a daily basis.

"I can say that there's always something in the day where I've cared for someone in some way that has given me joy and that I still get extreme pleasure in caring for people," Porter said.

Porter and the rest of the Health Care Worker of the Year nominees will be recognized at noon on Sept. 7 during the awards luncheon at the KHA Annual Convention in Wichita.