Lopez retiring after 41 years in nursing, health occupations

When she was growing up, Sue Ann Lopez could never remember wanting to do anything else besides being a nurse.

Lopez is retiring from serving as the Dean of Health Occupations after 24 years at South Plains College.

She grew up in Statesboro, Georgia, attending high school there as well. Lopez said she did some of her pre-nursing coursework at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.

“At that time, they did not have a school of nursing,” recalls Lopez. “Then I transferred to Valdosta State University. I completed my BSN in June. And then in September, I started my master’s at the Medical College of Georgia and finished that a year later and then practiced.”

Lopez completed her BSN in 1976 and her master’s degree in 1977. Then she began her career working in a hospital before working in private practice. She also taught at Georgia Southern University for four years after they started a BSN program.

Lopez moved to Levelland in 1994 to begin working at SPC.

“My husband’s home is here, and so I was teaching at the BSN program back home and it just, for whatever reason, seemed like a good time to move,” Lopez explained. “There were a lot of changes going on within the department, within the division that we were in, and felt like the best thing to do would be to relocate.”

Lopez said her husband told her about SPC. He grew up in Levelland and attended SPC. She said she made a few phone calls and found out there was a teaching position in the Associate Degree Nursing program.

“The rest is history,” Lopez said. “I came and I interviewed over what was our spring break. It was a great place, and I like the town. It’s pretty much the same as the town where we were living, and I got offered the job and we moved.”

Lopez began as an instructor in the ADN program in the fall of 1994. In June of 1998, she became the Director of the ADN program and the vocational nursing program on the Levelland campus. She became dean of health occupations in 2010.

Lopez said she has seen growth in the number of students during her time at SPC. She said that the enrollment growth led to the expansion of facilities, including a new building, and locations.

Lopez said that even though she has seen large growth, the focus of the college has not changed. It has always been student oriented.

“That is our main focus, the students,” explained Lopez, “because without students, there is no need for any of the rest of us to be here. I think that when you look at the faculty, and the staff and administration, you can tell that this is their passion. This is what they love to do. And it comes across in their teaching and in their interactions with students, other faculty and staff.”

Lopez said that she has stayed at SPC so long because she loves her job. She said that it has been the best place she has ever worked.

The profession of nursing has changed a lot since Lopez first began school.

“I would love to take the students back to when I first went into nursing,” Lopez said. “I would like to take them either from even further back, because my mother was a nurse, and she graduated from nursing school in 1946.”

Lopez explained that when her mother was a nurse, there wasn’t a lab and nurses had to draw their own labs, type and cross blood. She said the nurses had to do everything themselves.

Lopez said that when she first started practicing, IV bottles were glass, and now they are collapsible bags. She also said that when she began nursing, there were very few procedures nurses would use gloves for. Now gloves are used in everything they do.

“It has changed dramatically,” Lopez said. “One thing that hasn’t changed, unfortunately, is the paperwork. You don’t have actual paper. Now we have the same type of charting that is on a computer. I would like to see nurses get back to the bedside more and be able to spend the time with the patient, as opposed to having to hurry because they’ve got a chart. And that will never change. Charting is a necessary evil for our job, but I would like to see the focus go back to the patient and be more at the bedside.”

Lopez said that when when she begins orientation for a new class of student nurses, she always asks the students why they want to become a nurse. She said that she receives answers all across the board, such as their parents wanted them to, they know they’ll always be able to make money and have a job, or even because they’ve experienced something happen in their lives when a nurse played an important role.

“But the one thing that I think you have to have is nursing has to be your passion,” Lopez added. “I can never remember wanting to do anything else. Yes, my mom was a nurse. But I was never told that I had to be a nurse. Nursing is so diverse, and there are so many different jobs that are available in nursing. You don’t have to go in a hospital; you don’t have to go in a clinic. There’s so much open that you’re not just put in a little cubby hole, so to speak. You can do any number of things that you want to do. But it needs to be your passion.”

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