Susan Barnes, Dean and Professor, School of Nursing at St. Gregory’s University takes time out of her busy schedule to pet her sweet little therapy dog, Tillie Mae.

by Vickie Jenkins

I was fortunate to meet with Susan Barnes, RN, PH.D, CNE, FCN Dean and Professor, School of Nursing at St. Gregory’s University. What an amazing woman! Barnes was at Oklahoma City University for 8 years and began at St. Gregory’s University in January 2014. Starting a new nursing program, she became Dean and Professor of School of Nursing. “I love my job. Starting with a new nursing program, we have some new faculty members and new students and it is exciting to see the new program take off so well,” Barnes says.
Barnes has been a nurse since 1974. “That’s a long time,” she says with a laugh. Barnes graduated from Northern Oklahoma College. “I am very proud of myself for going to that college. I am a third generation from that school. My grandfather went there before Oklahoma was even a state and it is a special feeling to know that I carried on from there. I grew up in Ponca City, OK. I married at a young age and my husband was in the military. We ended up moving to Texas so I continued my education in Texas. I received my Masters and Doctrine at UTR. I received my Bachelors from the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio, TX,” Barnes states.
“How did you decide to become a nurse?” I ask Barnes. “Well, it’s kind of a funny story. I went to OU on a scholarship in Philosophy. After a little while, I realized that philosophy was something that I didn’t want to do. I wanted to find something that would actually better peoples’ lives. I knew that nursing would be a profession of helping people and it would also give me a steady income in the future. So, I set my goal on becoming a nurse. Actually, in the long run, the classes I had on Philosophy helped me in nursing,” she replied. “I teach Philosophy of Science, Ethics and Theory so it all worked out,” she added.
Asking Barnes if she had any mentors in nursing school, she was quick to answer. When I was going through school for my Ph.D. I looked up to several people that had a lasting impression on me. One was Maryann Madison. I was with her at UT. She was such an astute and particular person. Barbara Holtzclaw was a big part of my life. Louis Salmeron, Director of Research was also a mentor to me in graciousness and kindness. I will always be grateful to all of them.”
I asked Barnes to explain the new nursing program at St. Gregory’s. “We started a new RN and Nursing in general program here. We accept Freshman, Sophomore and Juniors. Next year will be the first time we will have Seniors graduating. So far, the Trustees are pleased with the success that we have seen. They feel that the program is aligned with the health profession and they only see improvement ahead. I have to add, we have some brilliant staff members and students. Everything is going along so well,” she said.
“How do you feel the nursing program overall, has changed over the years?” “I think that the students are doing more in the nursing program now. When I started out, I was more of a blue-collar worker. Now, there is more respect for the nursing profession. People seem to recognize the genuine love and compassion that a nurse has for their patient and their co-workers. That is a very important factor,” Barnes commented.
Describing herself in 3 words, Barnes replied, “I would rather have someone else do it,” she laughed. “Well, I know that I am flexible. I think I am also very tenacious, or so I’ve been told. I am also innovative. I think that sums up the description of me in 3 words.”
Not only did others influence Barnes’ life but she has had a big influence on others’ lives. She has 4 family members that decided to follow in her footsteps. The first one is her husband, followed by her son, daughter and son-in-law. “If there is any kind of emergency around the house, we just look at each other and ask, What do you think?” she said with a smile.
In Barnes’ opinion, the qualities that make a good nurse consist of the knowledge of hard thinking and their problem solving. They have to take their nursing skills of taking care of a corporal body and truly have love and care for their patients and love for their co-workers.
When I asked Barnes what her hobbies were, her face seemed to light up with enthusiasm. “My hobby, my fun time consists of spending time with my 6 grandchildren, ages 2 to 13. I’ve got another grandchild on the way too,” she added. “I have 2 horses and a mule so when the grandchildren come to visit over the weekend, the time is filled with all the grandchildren riding the horses. They love it and I enjoy watching them have such a good time.”
Barnes wears many hats as Dean of Nursing. She has done 3 Post Doctrine Fellowships on higher education and has had the opportunity to speak internationally in Vancouver, Edinburgh, Scotland and several times in the UK. She will be going back to Africa in March 2016 regarding a graduate study and pursuing a global education. This will also give her a chance to collaborate with other nursing schools. She has also been recognized in Arts Interpretation in Arts Education.
“Overall, according to Barnes, Father Abbott Lawrence Stasyszen O.S.B. of St. Gregory’s University is pleased with the teaching and the new program that has been opened for the nursing students. We put a creative approach on our teaching. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for these students and it is something that they can’t get back. In a way, we consider them scrappy which means the students come here and they don’t know what to expect yet they are so teachable in every aspect. They are setting up for the future and it is up to us to help mold them into that special individual that they are meant to be. Everyone starts out as scrappy and it is up to us to see that they believe in themselves,” Barnes explains.
“What is your favorite thing about your job here at St. Gregory’s?” I ask. “I love negotiating with people and I put a creative aspect on it. I love seeing the students take a chance on a new opportunity and I love to watch the blazing trail.”