People look to the constellations when they describe a promising young healthcare executive like David Clark, whose star is rising at age 32.
"He's what I'd call a shooting star, and, in the 25 years I have been in the business, I haven't seen anything like him," said Charley Trimble, chief executive officer at St. Mary of the Plains Hospital in Lubbock, Texas, and a member of the board at Memorial Hospital in Dumas, Texas.
"Remember what your mother always wanted you to be like?" Mr. Trimble said. "Well, that's him."
Mr. Clark's hospital administration career began in 1984 while he was a student at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. For four hours each week, he would volunteer as a "go-for boy" at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, where his wife, Dodie, was working as a registered nurse to put him through college.
He'd spend his time doing anything from transporting patients to stocking laboratory shelves. But it was during his 15-minute breaks that he started to become fascinated with behind-the-scenes hospital operations.
"I'd see the hospital administrator and make a point to talk to him," Mr. Clark said. "We usually talked for 15 minutes and I'd think, `What a dynamic career."'
Those brief conversations helped Mr. Clark develop an appreciation for healthcare that became his guiding light as administrator and CEO of 112-bed Memorial Hospital.
"I realized just how important it is for hospital employees to work together, be patient-focused and have a mission or sense of purpose," he said. "I wanted to go into an industry that's stable but service-oriented and built on meeting the needs of people."
That attitude helped him turn around the ailing 36-bed Crosbyton (Texas) Clinic Hospital, where he took his first hospital CEO position in September 1989. Within a year, the 27-year-old Mr. Clark transformed the hospital's $287,000 loss in 1988 into a $148,000 income in 1989 on an operating budget of $6 million.
"He's got a place here any time he wants it," said Mr. Trimble, whose hospital is affiliated with Crosbyton. "He's a wholesome, genuine person who loves life and people, and is so positive about everyone."
Mr. Clark's background seems always to have been red, white and blue. He was high school student body president, he played on the football team, and he was an Eagle Scout. After earning his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young, he took two years off to participate in a mission in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"My mission taught me a lot about sacrifice and hard work," Mr. Clark said.
He also learned about sacrifice from his father, who put in 80-hour weeks as a neurosurgeon.
Mr. Clark's own work week approaches 70 hours, but he manages to be home for dinner each evening to spend time with his wife and their four children: David, 8; Amy, 5; Erica, 3; and Austin, 5 months.
He ends his business day at home by spending two to three hours a night working on his computer.
A physician advocate, Mr. Clark continues to prepare for reform at Memorial, which is owned by Moore County Hospital District. A physician-hospital organization and other projects are under discussion between Dumas-area physicians and Memorial. The closest tertiary facility is nearly 50 miles to the north in Amarillo, Texas.
"I look upon these turbulent times as exciting. Some of these changes going on right now I see as positive, and I'm a real advocate of universal coverage," he said.
Moore County is the largest healthcare facility in its area; it serves 20,000 people.
Moore County has a lower tax rate than any other hospital district in the state, at 3.2 cents per $100 in valuation. That county tax money represents just 4% of the hospital's revenues, Mr. Clark said.
By keeping the hospital financially strong, Mr. Clark doesn't have to ask the Moore County Board for an increase in the hospital district levy.
He is now making efforts to ensure the hospital's fiscal resilience by considering developing affiliations with local physicians and hospitals.
"I like to talk in terms of leaders, not managers, and good leaders have a wider range of capabilities," Mr. Clark said. "We have to adjust our thinking to systems thinking instead of organizational thinking."