UH Hilo nursing alum, Hawai‘i Army National Guard veteran, and chief nursing officer at Hilo Medical Center: Arthur Sampaga Jr., knows the meaning of service.
By Lauren Okinaka.
On February 20, the Hilo community pulled together to deliver vaccines to 2,000 people at the Edith Kanaka‘ole Tennis Stadium. Among the many volunteers who organized the event, employees from the Hilo Medical Center spent their day off to step up and vaccinate educators from preschool through college level and those in the airline and other service sectors.
Among those fueled to service by a commitment to good public health was Arthur Sampaga Jr., chief nursing officer at Hilo Medical Center, where he’s been on staff for 32 years. An alum of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, Sampaga was in the very first nursing cohort at the university, graduating with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) in 1994.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Sampaga’s job significantly.
“Since January 2020, almost all of my focus and efforts have been COVID related,” he says. “As an active member of the executive planning committee, we have prepared our medical center and community to deal with the active threat of this virus.”
He says planning, obtaining all the necessary equipment and supplies, providing the latest in infectious disease training, and implementing all evidence-based practices in Hilo has helped with coping with the pandemic.
“From the start we have been taking a proactive approach in everything we do, such as ongoing surveillance testing of all employees, proper personal protective equipment use, opening up a COVID unit to care for patients, and now providing the COVID vaccines for our community healthcare workers, essential workers, and Kupuna,” he says. “I am also the East Hawai‘i Medical Center’s liaison actively participating with Civil Defense and Department of Health daily operations.”
The ambitious scholar
Sampaga graduated from Waiakea High School in 1984. While in his senior year there, he joined the Hawai‘i Army National Guard, which led to 30 years of military service where the decorated war veteran served in combat deployments as a primary trauma care provider, mass casualty leader, joint forces liaison officer, and emergency medical services director.
This was made possible because when he got out of high school in 1984, Sampaga also knew he wanted to be educated at home through the UH system. “Since my time at Waiakea High School, I knew I wanted to continue my education here at home and never really thought of venturing away from home.”
The ambitious scholar started at Kapi‘olani Community College, where he earned a certificate as an emergency medical technician, and then went on to Hawai‘i Community College, earning an associate’s degree in nursing and a certificate in practical nursing. He continued on to UH Mānoa but eventually transferred to UH Hilo to be part of the first nursing class. “I was fortunate to take full advantage of the GI Bill and military tuition assistance for the duration of my college experience.”
He says the UH Hilo nursing program expanded his knowledge base in a variety of sciences, community outreach services, and leadership development. Meanwhile, he worked multiple jobs while in the program. “While enrolled in the BSN program as a full-time student, I also worked full-time at Hilo Hospital in the intensive care unit caring for critical ill and injured patients on night shift,” he says.
All the while, he also worked as a part-time soldier in the National Guard. “That’s where school, study, work, and sleep were the top priorities. All extracurricular activities were kept at a minimum,” he says. “This demanding schedule made me appreciate what life has to offer. I made the most of it. I was driven and goal-oriented from the start.”
After graduation, he advanced his career at Hilo Medical Center as a licensed practical nurse in the medical unit. He then became a registered nurse in the intensive care unit. He then went on to work in the angiography and post-anesthesia recovery units. He’s held his current position as chief nursing officer for the past five years. Previously, he also held manager, supervisor, and director positions.
Sampaga says his UH Hilo nursing degree allowed him to advance to officer ranks in the National Guard. He worked as a medical noncommissioned officer and infantry officer. He graduated from the U.S. Army Hawai‘i Military Academy in 1993 and later, after working his craft for almost 20 years, graduated from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in 2011. He earned his master’s degree in nursing leadership from Grantham University in 2017.
After 30 years of service in the National Guard, he retired as a lieutenant colonel and chief nurse and deputy commander for the U.S. Army Medical Command or Medcom.
It’s no surprise that in 2020, he received the Hawai‘i Community College Distinguished Alumni of the Year Award. “Such an honor and a humbling experience,” he says.
The bigger picture
Sampaga says he enjoys every aspect of his job at Hilo Medical Center.
“Most of all, it’s the people I work with,” he explains. “Healthcare is a 24/7 business and it’s tough. We all come to work to accomplish our mission of providing exceptional and compassionate care while caring for our community, our family, friends, and neighbors.”
He says his strength is in developing a team of solid healthcare workers.
“Early in my career, it was all about saving lives,” he says. “Now the bigger picture is about setting up the medical center for success in developing new specialties and service lines while providing the highest quality care.”
Joan Thompson Pagan, associate professor and director of the nursing program at UH Hilo says Sampaga works hard and cares about the community.
“Arthur wants to make the hospital the best that it can be,” she says. “[Under his leadership] our hospital has made many improvements and is so much better.”
Sampaga is now an active member of the UH Hilo nursing advisory board and a community workforce leader who employs many of university’s graduates starting out their careers in the healthcare industry.
And he has a tip for students at UH Hilo: “Choose your career path wisely. Know what you want to do. Be competent, educate yourself and others, provide safe, quality care through evidence-based practices.”
-Story by Lauren Okinaka, who is earning a bachelor of arts in communication with a minor in English.