Each day, Dr. Sharon Souter invests her professional skills as a nurse educator to prepare the next generation of compassionate, competent nurses. But Souter's concern focuses not only on society's younger generations; she also invests her personal research efforts on the nutrition of senior adults.
For Souter, dean of the Scott and White College of Nursing at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, positively affecting both tomorrow's nurses and today's seniors is a driving force in her career.
Souter's nursing career began as a sophomore transfer student to Oklahoma Baptist University. The 1976 nursing graduate went on to earn her master's degree in nursing from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in 1981, then her Ph.D. degree in nursing from the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio in 2002.
Today, Souter is responsible for all activities in the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor's College of Nursing, which includes assessing, planning and evaluating the total function of the college. She supervises a staff of 15 full-time faculty, several part-time faculty and 300 nursing students. She also serves as the advocate for the program between local, regional and out-of-state health care providers.
Souter herself benefitted from training on Bison Hill with OBU nursing pioneer Juanita Granger Millsap and legendary biology professor James E. Hurley. Millsap and OBU administrators worked with state medical leaders to start OBU's nursing program in 1952. She was inducted into the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame in 2000. Dr. Hurley was inducted into the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame in 2003.
"Dr. Hurley was tough, firm but very effective in his teaching and care for students," Souter said. "Mrs. Millsap was the epitome of professional nursing. I still make references to some of my experiences with her in my own nursing school history with my current students today."
During their tenures, Hurley and Millsap taught hundreds - perhaps thousands - of OBU students to excel in their quest to join the medical field. Souter also recognized the potential to make an impact on the medical field through nursing education.
"I went into nursing education because as one person I could touch the life of several patients throughout my practice, but as a nurse educator, I come in contact with 160 new nurses each academic year," Souter said. "If I can effect a change in them - that they will practice with their hearts first, love people and give their all - then the impact is exponential. I want them to go out and demonstrate the love of God, care with their hearts, but be excellent critical thinkers who can identify patient problems early and intervene appropriately so that health occurs and health promotion is ongoing.
"I love students. I love trying to teach a difficult concept and see lack of understanding among the students and then try a different teaching technique and the 'light bulbs' come on. I want them to say, 'Dr. Souter taught me to be a nurse, to think on my feet, to know the answers conceptually so that I am always ready.'"
Reports indicate nursing is the single largest health profession, with more than 2 million jobs. However, the world faces an unprecedented nursing shortage due to factors such as an aging work force, fewer nursing students and job stress. Souter recognizes the enormous need.
"The nursing shortage will need to be addressed not only by educating more nurses but modifying the working environment to be more nurse friendly," Souter said. "The workload at present is tremendous and even new nurses burn out easily and early. Many of the students who come to nursing today do not necessarily share the love for people that brought the nurses of my generation to the nursing arena. I believe some of aspects of caring can be taught but some are within the person. To be a great nurse, individuals must want to make a positive difference in the lives of others and this can be expensive emotionally and physically.
"Tomorrow's nurses must be able to find the answer while at the same time supporting the dignity of their patients as individuals, regardless of age, status, ethnicity or beliefs."
Souter recognizes not only challenges facing the generations younger than hers, but also people in her parents' generation. She said she has an inherent love for older adults because her mother and father were older when she was born. One challenge she sees facing senior adults is malnutrition - due to money, lack of access or poor health. For some seniors, food today does not measure up to what they grew up with: fresh fruits and vegetables, milk from the cow in the barn and meat from the farm's livestock.
"The most difficult finding for me at a personal level was that many participants told stories of writing a list, giving the list to a family member or neighbor and, rather than purchasing the items on the 'list,' they would buy what they 'thought' was good or better for the older adult," Souter said. "This distressed them greatly. I have come to the conclusion that it is a far larger problem than we realize and that community congregate centers that provide lunch and fellowship or Meals on Wheels are very important to this generation."
Souter said her love for senior adults drives her research in the area of nutrition.
"I love older adults, I love their stories and the contributions they have made to this world of ours," she said. "I want to make a difference in the outcome of their lives in any way possible." The positive influence of Souter and her husband, Lonny, also is evident through the work of their children. Her son, Zach Souter, serves as youth minister at Taylor Memorial Baptist Church in Hobbs, N.M., and her daughter, Hope Souter McNeil, is children's minister at Westbury Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. Souter is also the proud grandmother of Hannah, 4, and Jackson, 1.
Her career is a daily testament to her desire to make the world a better place for those most precious in her life - and for countless others.
Oklahoma Baptist University alum Sharon Souter,'76, is a 2009 recipient of the OBU Alumni Association's Profile In Excellence Award. The award is given to a former student who has "demonstrated recognizable accomplishment in his or her profession, business, avocation, or life service in such a way as to bring pride and honor to the University." Each year, 12 Profile In Excellence recipients are selected, and each is featured in an article in OBU Magazine.