Anderson University College of Health Professions
Dr. Nathan Heffington: Bringing peace to chaos
Dr. Nathan Heffington views his job as more than just a career. It’s a calling and a ministry.
He’s demonstrated leadership out in a hot parking lot conducting sick visits and performing testing during the COVID-19 pandemic and has seen Parkside Pediatrics and Family Medicine branch out into more locations while expanding services. He’s often featured on local TV newscasts offering advice to viewers, whether it’s addressing a shortage of baby formula or other health issues affecting the community.
Tell me about your role at Parkside Pediatrics.
Currently I’m the medical director of our Reidville Road office in Spartanburg. We just expanded. There’s a research division and a bunch of other space where there’s an indoor playground, and then there’s other space that’s going to be either expansion for our own divisions and programs or for other medical practices and specialties. There are a lot of possibilities. It’s a really exciting time.
Could you have imagined you would ever be doing something like this when you first got into healthcare?
I had no idea. It’s a pretty unique scenario. Parkside Pediatrics is an incredible organization to work for, centered on the Gospel first and foremost, then providing excellence in healthcare, also taking care of the people who work there.
For a nurse practitioner to be in a medical director role isn’t really that common. It was never an issue for them. It’s been very well received by the staff there, and for our team it’s great.
Tell me more about your Christian focus.
It’s a huge part of what we do. We pray every morning before we start. Our whole motivation for wanting to be there is all about Jesus and what He did, and that’s kind of how I got into the whole thing in the first place, what pushed me toward healthcare.
Kind of like with Anderson, the philosophy there, and where I am now. I’ve been really lucky to be part of teams that share that same value. We’re all coming from the same place and working for the same goal. That’s been incredible.
How did you become interested in healthcare as a profession?
My dad was a family practice physician, and he was an amazing one. I never really thought about it as a career for myself for whatever reason going through college. I thought I’d be working at a church. I initially didn’t go for anything medical. I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill, worked at a church and a camp in the area for several years, got married, and then when we had our oldest daughter. When we were in the hospital with her, going through that process, everything was normal and so great, but we were so nervous about everything, being first time parents. Every time she sneezed we were hitting the nurse button. She was healthy, my wife was healthy, everything was fine. The nursing staff and all the doctors and everybody there were just so wonderful and caring.
I remember thinking if they weren’t good at their job and didn’t care about us, this would be terrible. If there was something really scary that didn’t go to plan or there was sickness, we would be in absolute chaos and would be totally lost without these people. I realized medical professionals come in and all they do is enter into other people’s chaos. They get to either bring peace to chaos or they can amplify that chaos if they’re not good at what they do.
I just remember being moved by that and thinking I don’t want anyone else to be in that situation where they have the worst day of their life or something really hard, they’re in all this chaos and they don’t have a peacemaker there.
So I decided to train myself as an expert in a something that will allow me to bring peace to chaos.
How did you discover Anderson University?
I investigated a lot of options to go back to school and what that would look like. I thought I was going to go to medical school and realized the time that would take. I just had my daughter and didn’t think my family would fit. I looked into the nurse practitioner or PA (physician assistant) route.
My wife’s friend’s mom, Charlotte Stephens, was the chair at the nurse practitioner program. So I looked her up and she seemed to have all the letters behind her name that I was going to need behind mine, so I reached out to her and she was super kind. She wanted to meet with me, but all I wanted to know was what it would take and what I needed to do to make it happen.
So I sat down with her at Anderson University. I thought I’d just be asking some general questions, and we talked about Jesus, we talked about all kinds of stuff. She was so sweet and wonderful. Then in the end, she pulled in someone from the admissions team and said, “Listen, here’s what you need to do exactly. We’ve got this program. We can work this out.” Deadlines were coming up. That wasn’t my intention at all. I wasn’t trying to apply for anything. She really helped me understand what I needed to do—which classes I needed and which classes I didn't. She kind of made it happen, so I ended up applying for the accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Within a couple of months, I was taking classes at Anderson University.
I completed the BSN program and through that really fell in love with emergency care. When I finished my accelerated nursing program, I had already applied for the master’s in nurse practitioner program, and I actually took my first nurse practitioner exam before I even passed my NCLEX (National Counsel Licensure Examination). They let me go straight through. That was a huge risk on their part. They had a lot of faith in me. I didn’t think it was warranted, but I appreciated that they let me roll in. I was in the first cohort for the nurse practitioner program.
While I did that I worked as RN in the pediatric emergency room at Prisma (then Greenville Memorial Hospital). I would work in the night at the hospital, then do clinicals all day, then go back to the hospital at night, then study the next day, so it was just days awake for a while! I was able to do it because of the flexibility of the AU program. I was able to work full time doing something I love and go to school full time and get through it quickly.
While I was in the hospital—even the chaos of all that—I remember how exhausting that was. We had another child while I was in undergrad. We had two kids at that point and we have five now. It was so chaotic but I was thinking every day: this is a fulfillment of what God started in me in that hospital room with Emerson. I get to do everyday what He promised I could do. He’s being so faithful in that. I’ve seen so many stories in the ER—it was somebody’s worst day and being able to use what I knew and being part of a team that was focused on intervening and doing everything we could to bring peace.
What makes your Anderson University program stand out?
One of the big things that differentiates Anderson from other places is how much the staff and the faculty care about each student as a person and a child of God more than just a number or a statistic. Especially in that nurse practitioner program, I felt so supported by everybody. They were always looking for ways to help us and adapt what they were doing to help us succeed in the program and outside as people. It was really meaningful to me to benefit from it as a student but also to see that as a person.
My first semester I thought I was just going to do my master’s and then move on to the doctorate but I switched over after talking to some of them, getting advice from some folks at Anderson I really trusted. I ended up just doing the doctorate initially. I loved where I was. I loved being in the ER and just wanted to extend that. So I did that for about three years, worked in the ER the whole time and finished up my doctorate —DNP and FNP—then graduated. It was a time there weren’t a lot of jobs around Greenville for nurse practitioners. I was praying through and thought about what I wanted to do. There was nothing like what I was thinking about.
Tell me about going to Parkside.
I can’t remember the exact nature of how it worked out, timeline wise. They just offered me the job at the ER and randomly, I got a call from Parkside. I hadn’t applied there. I hadn’t applied anywhere else really. I applied for a couple of things I really didn’t want to do and kind of withdrew my application.
I hadn’t applied at Parkside—they didn’t have any job openings. But my manager in the ER was a Parkside patient who had heard they were going to open a campus in Powdersville. She said. “I saw that and prayed about it and thought about you.” She knows the partner there and told them they should hire me. Additionally, there was someone already working at Parkside that I met serendipitously through the ER that knew I was finishing my degree. She mentioned me to the same set of people. I think God really used those two things and the people in charge were trying to be in tune with, obedient to the Holy Spirit, so they called out of nowhere.
The timing was so strange. I wanted to treat kids but didn’t want to work in outpatient. I told the ER I needed a couple of days to think about a random job offer and I needed to pray about it for a couple of days.
I met with the partners at Parkside. We spent more time talking about the Lord and what He’s done. I just left going, “Oh my gosh, this is real. There are a lot of places that have scripture on the wall. These guys—this is why they’re doing what they’re doing!”
I went to pray about it. I’m going to go walk around this lake at this camp where I used to work and I’m going to pray for three or four hours. It takes time for me to get to where I’m calm enough to hear from the Lord. I get there and two of my friends were there randomly and they both mentioned Parkside.
It was right before COVID and I got off of orientation and finished my training there, which was excellent. I feel like Anderson really prepared me well for my job there. At Anderson University, they want to educate the whole person. They want you to take leadership. They want you to be centered on Jesus there, wherever you go, whatever you do. It's the same at Parkside.
What was it like being at Parkside during the COVID-19 pandemic?
My first day at Parkside, after I finished all of my credentials and could see my own patients, was the first day of the COVID pandemic.
We had to set up all these tents out in the parking lot just to see patients. I was nervous just to see any patients, and they put me on the tent team that first day. We were walking out there all gowned up and everyone was watching us. I felt like they were sending us off to our deaths. We didn’t know what it was going to be like or how to diagnose or treat it. There were so many question marks. I love how Parkside adapted to it. We decided we were going to do everything we can for our patients. We kept the offices clean and did all sick appointments outside. I had not yet developed a panel of primary care patients and I loved being in the tent setting, so I just stayed. I stayed in our sick center and continued to lead that.
I felt that my ER background had prepared me for that. Anderson had prepared me well for just adapting, doing what I needed to do. People kind of floated through it. It was my first day. I had developed a panel of primary care patients and I loved it so much. I stayed out there every single day, all the way through COVID. I was just a guy that stayed out there, so I got to help lead some of it and did a lot of helping us come up with our policies about COVID and education for our team and providers.
Eventually we transitioned back into regular life a little more. We’d see sick patients inside. I stayed in the sick center as medical director. That kind of dissolved as we reintegrated into more normal.
They appreciated my leadership through that and kept me in a leadership role as the medical director at the new office. My wife and I prayed about it a lot. It was a big deal. God was very clear, and so we decided to do it. I’ve been doing that since December 2021. God continues to be faithful to that to which He called me initially: to be in people’s lives in moments of chaos and hardship. I’ve prepared spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally, medically—all of that.
What was the best part of your Anderson experience?
We did leadership stuff within our team and I was a faculty liaison in nurse practitioner school and I got to help communicate what students needed. The main part was the community amongst the students and also how involved the faculty was involved with our success. It was unbelievable.
At the end of the day, what gives you the greatest feeling of accomplishment?
In an earthly sense, I feel like I’m trained to be the vessel of peace that God called me to be, not because of anything I have but because of Him and His faithfulness and a bunch of other people being really faithful to Him. He was able to take me very quickly from, “I’m going to give you this vision and calling,” to, “Now you get to do it every single day.” It shouldn’t be possible to do it like that, but He lined that up and Anderson was an irreplaceable part of that.
It would not have worked at any other university for me. The timing was right, the people were right. I felt like so many times they made decisions as instructors, but also as organizers and administrators of the program that weren’t based on what every other school does. I was a beneficiary of that, a million fold. If they hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have been able to get into the program at all. I wouldn’t have been able to go to nurse practitioner school so quickly. It wouldn’t have happened someplace where you’re just a number.
The thing I’m so proud of in my life is I’m able to fulfill the calling God put on my life. I’m so sure of it. He’s so faithful. I’m where I’m supposed to be. Tomorrow everything might explode, but today I know where I’m supposed to be, and that is so satisfying.