Suzanne Prevost: Passionate about family, nursing and research-based practice

By Jane Marie Kirschling | 11/04/2011

Her presidential call to action? “Give back to move forward.”

Suzanne Prevost

"To create a global community of nurses who lead using knowledge, scholarship, service and learning to improve the health of the world’s people.” That’s the vision of the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI), and it aligns perfectly with the nursing career of Suzanne S. Prevost, PhD, RN, COI. Three stone pillars in the honor society’s coat of arms—service, professional endeavor and leadership—provide a solid foundation for the organization, and they are exemplified in Prevost’s career and passion for nursing.
Her unwavering commitment to her family reflects love, Storgé. Her willingness to move her family and place of employment in support of her husband’s career reflects courage, Tharsos. And her willingness to share her time and expertise by serving as president of Sigma Theta Tau International reflects honor, Timé.
Suzanne PrevostPrevost holds in highest regard her chosen profession and the ability of nurses worldwide. Patricia E. Thompson, EdD, RN, FAAN, chief executive officer of the honor society, notes: “I have had the pleasure of knowing Dr. Prevost since the 1980s and have observed her professional development and significant achievements. She has demonstrated excellence in education, research and evidence-based practice. Her vision for Sigma Theta Tau International will support nurses in improving the health of the world’s people. I am privileged to have the opportunity to work with her and the board during this biennium.”
Early multitasking
The second of five children, Prevost, who was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, spent her early years in Sligo, Pennsylvania, USA, where her father worked in a factory and her mother in a bakery. When she was in grade school, her family moved to a small mining community in the Appalachian Mountains, where her father worked in a coal mine and steel mill. Prevost’s German-Irish parents instilled in their children a strong work ethic and the importance of charitable giving. One of the house rules was: No watching television, unless you do chores, such as folding laundry or peeling potatoes, at the same time. This early lesson on multitasking has served Prevost well, not only in her personal life but also professionally. As she knows firsthand, nurses around the globe share an uncanny ability to juggle multiple demands on their time and do what is essential at any given moment.
Growing up in a working-poor family, Prevost was motivated to acquire a good education and a stable career. A strong faith in God that inspired optimism and a sharply focused orientation toward setting and achieving goals contributed to her success as a student. In high school, she felt a spiritual call to help others by becoming a nurse. She followed the advice of a high school guidance counselor who told her, “The best nurses come from diploma schools.” It was a perspective that was not uncommon in the 1970s, especially in small communities in the United States. Prevost went to South Side Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she worked as a nursing assistant, since she needed to be financially self-supporting. She was the first person in her family to graduate from college and, later, she helped her four siblings achieve their degrees as well. Three of the five now have graduate degrees, quite an anomaly in their hometown.
Suzanne PrevostDuring her diploma program, Prevost realized she was going to need a college degree to be a leader in her profession, so, upon graduation at age 20, she enrolled in an RN-to-BSN program at Villa Maria College in Erie. While completing her BSN, she worked 12-hour shifts every weekend for two years as an ICU staff nurse. In 1982, while completing that program, Prevost was inducted into STTI. Mastering ICU nursing proved to be a solid foundation for Prevost’s career, as it was uncommon for new graduates to enter specialized practice in the early 1980s. She knew early on that she needed to be actively involved in professional organizations. In 1983, she joined the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses and, in 1985, the American Nurses Association.
Traveling nurse meets future husband
With her BSN degree in hand, Prevost decided to see the world as a traveling nurse. She relished the opportunity to see new places, meet people from diverse cultures and try out different models of nursing care. Her passion for understanding and merging knowledge from other cultures continues in her current work to promote collaboration among nurse clinicians, researchers and educators, as well as her work to help STTI become an intentionally global organization. She met her husband, Frank, at a church service during her days as a traveler and immediately knew he was her soul mate. They have been married for 28 years.
Early in their marriage, Prevost worked in the surgical intensive care unit at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at The University of Texas in Houston. It was in the SICU that she encountered a role model—a clinical nurse specialist (CNS)—who provided direction for her future career. She immediately knew that she had to become an expert leader, just like the CNS, and when the family moved to Charleston, South Carolina, she enrolled in the CNS program at the Medical University of South Carolina. While in her MSN program, Prevost again worked in the SICU. She also gave birth to two daughters, Liz and Emily, during that time.
Her husband’s early career required several moves. After South Carolina, it was back to Houston, Texas, where she worked as a CNS at Texas Heart Institute and enrolled in the doctoral program at Texas Woman’s University. At TWU, Prevost developed a passion for elderly patients and clinical research. She was constantly on a mission to demonstrate that expert nursing care made a significant difference for patients. She completed her PhD in 1992 while working as a CNS on a geriatric assessment team within the Veterans Administration and also serving as an assistant professor at Northwestern State University in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Publish and flourish
With her doctoral studies behind her, Prevost focused her passion for older patients and scholarship on research that resulted in extensive publication in peer-reviewed journals and book chapters, as well as regional, national and international presentations. During this time, the seed was also planted for her future work with the honor society when she served as an international collateral grant reviewer.
In 1993, Prevost accepted an appointment as an associate professor at The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston. She started as a clinical nurse researcher, but the scope of her role expanded each year to eventually include outcomes evaluation and nursing education. Jana Stonestreet, PhD, RN, NEA-BCJ, executive nursing consultant with Workforce Insight, supervised Prevost when she was serving as a critical-care administrative and clinical nurse specialist at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston and as director of outcomes research and education at UTMB. Stonestreet shares the following: 
Suzanne has always been the consummate scholar. As director of outcomes research, she led the creation of the nursing service research agenda. This plan focused on a number of nurse-sensitive indicators, and the program was credited for significantly improving the quality of care provided to patients within our hospitals. These processes and outcomes were shared through publications, as well as regional and national presentations, and contributed to improving both the internal and external image and reality of nursing within our health care system.
Although Suzanne has always personally been highly productive in her contributions to nursing literature, the impact she has had on others is even more impressive. The team of clinical nurse specialists she led, as well as other leaders and staff in the organization, were helped to grow professionally by Suzanne’s encouragement, support and drive.
Always the role model, she led by example. She has always had a way of helping others and showing the way. As a result, many of the nursing leaders and clinical nurse specialists who worked with Suzanne presented at regional and national meetings, and were published in peer-reviewed journals for the first time.  
Prevost has fond memories of that time in her career, especially her experiences directing advanced practice nurses and helping them demonstrate the impact of their work. Recognizing the importance of investing in the long-term future of Sigma Theta Tau International, Prevost became a Virginia Henderson Fellow in 1997.
From Houston to Murfreesboro
In 1998, enticed by the opportunities that came with the National HealthCare Chair of Excellence in Nursing that was offered to her at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Prevost accepted the unique, full-time faculty position, which was funded by a nursing home corporation. In addition to teaching, she worked closely with the corporation as a clinical consultant, educator and research facilitator. Karen Ward, PhD, RN, COI, professor and director of the School of Nursing at MTSU, observes of Prevost: “It’s a pleasure to have worked with Suzanne. She provided many faculty, including myself, with the opportunity to publish and present. Her door was always ‘open,’ even if she had it closed to work on her own manuscripts! When dealing with problematic situations, she was able see the big picture and offer helpful insights. I was always appreciative of her input. It is so exciting—both for her and for Sigma Theta Tau International—that she will be installed as our next president.”
Part of the Prevosts’ decision to relocate to Tennessee was a quality-of-life consideration. The Prevost family left the large urban environment of Houston for Murfreesboro, a small college town. They stayed there for 10 years and saw their daughters through high school and most of their college years. At MTSU, a regional, teaching-intensive university, Prevost, now a professor, honed her skills as an expert teacher, informal leader and mentor. Her contributions to the Honor Society of Nursing accelerated during this time. She served on the International Research Committee (1999-2003), was chairperson of the International Evidence-Based Practice Task Force (2000-03), and was elected to the board of directors in 2003. From 2003 through 2007, she served as secretary of the board. Without a doubt, Prevost has walked the walk of her presidential theme, “Give back to move forward.”
In 2006, Prevost was accepted as a Hartford Geriatric Postdoctoral Fellow, with mentors at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Her goal was to increase her research skill set and geriatric network. Cornelia Beck, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor in the College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, served as one of Prevost’s mentors. Beck notes: “Dr. Prevost has dedicated her career to improving the care of older adults and is recognized as a national expert in end-of-life care. Her compassion, sensitivity and steadfastness are evident in her professional life, as well as in her commitment to her family. It was an honor to serve as a mentor for her Hartford postdoctoral fellowship.”
On to Kentucky
As she approached the end of the fellowship, Prevost decided to pursue a leadership position in an academic medical center and, in 2008, accepted the position of professor and associate dean for practice and community engagement at the University of Kentucky (UK) College of Nursing in Lexington. In this role, she works closely with UK HealthCare, faculty and staff to shape advanced practice nursing within the school’s health system, Lexington and surrounding region. She also works tirelessly with students in UK’s BSN-to-DNP and MSN-to-DNP programs.
Prevost understands that, while individual efforts are important, it is through teamwork and collaboration across the globe that we will actualize the vision established for the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International. In high school and college, she was energized by team sports and played on basketball and volleyball teams. Those experiences gave her a healthy understanding and appreciation for teamwork and collaboration, characteristics central to her work with the STTI board of directors, staff and membership. Her passion for college and professional sports continues to this day and, as time allows within their very busy schedules, she and her husband are in the stands cheering on their favorite teams. She embodies the spirit of being a “true-blue” fan of the University of Kentucky Wildcats!
Prevost’s overriding professional goal is to lead the way in bringing about changes in care delivery that result in measurable improvements for patients and families. Her experience as an advanced practice nurse, administrator, researcher and educator will aid her in pursuing and accomplishing this goal. Her clinical work and scholarship have also greatly benefited those with whom she has come in contact around the globe. Since 2007, she has served as consulting editor for Nursing Clinics of North America. Building upon these and other experiences, Prevost is uniquely positioned to develop relationships across academic and practice environments to enhance care delivery and patient outcomes. As president, working in collaboration with STTI’s global membership, her efforts to develop these relationships will be advanced.
Fellowship application foreshadows call to action
Prevost was a member of the 2009 cohort of Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellows. In applying for the fellowship, she wrote: 
What I value most is using my gifts, talents and resources to help others and make the world a better place. For me, that process often involves listening well; motivating my employees, co-workers, students or my own children; bringing people together; and encouraging them to take action or move forward. The notion of giving back is also very important to me. I feel that I am extremely fortunate in what I have been given and what I have experienced and, therefore, have an obligation to pass it on. I believe that God has given me tremendous blessings and opportunities, and it is my responsibility to make the most of those.
The things I enjoy range widely from growing roses to cheering on my favorite football team to taking pictures of my grandchildren. My greatest joy comes from celebrating the success and accomplishments of my children, students and employees, and my proudest moments are at graduation ceremonies, especially seeing my daughter Liz obtain her BSN and my daughter Emily her advertising degree. It is my mission to share my passion for nursing and education with every student, every nurse and every co-worker I encounter. 
“My mom is such a great blessing.”
For Prevost and her daughters, the admiration is mutual. As Emily Prevost observes:
I am not a nurse—I don't do needles, blood or hospitals—so I chose to go into the furthest thing away from nursing I could think of: advertising! Even though I have no personal interest in the field of nursing, when I think about my future and the kind of wife, mother, friend and employee I want to be, I just look at my mom. She has set a great example for my sister and me and, if I turn out anything like her, I would consider that a huge success. 
One of the things I love most about my mom is her drive to be the best at everything she does. She has managed to be an excellent nurse and professor while still being the best mother a daughter could ask for. I remember when I was younger and she worked night shifts at the hospital, I didn't even know she worked at all until one Christmas when she had to do a day shift. I was so confused!
When I was growing up, she was so good at being fully present with us when she got home from work until we went to bed. She would cook dinner for us, take us shopping, help us with our homework or do whatever we needed—and then, once we went to bed, she would work into the wee hours of the morning grading papers, editing nursing journals, doing research, etc. She never lets her drive for succeeding in work get in the way of being a great mother, and yet, she manages to do both things extremely well.
She is one of the smartest people I know, and I always know I can count on her for advice, no matter the topic. She is compassionate, kind and generous (and also very humble; she would never brag to anyone about the generous things she does). She does everything with grace and integrity, and I have immense respect for how she has handled every trial our family has encountered. Lastly, she is a woman of great faith who actually lives it out day by day. I thank God every time I think of her, because I know that having her as my mom is such a great blessing. 
“When we needed her, she was always there.”
Elizabeth Prevost Lindquist, BSN, RN, shares the following: 
My mother amazes me. For as long as I can remember, she has been so driven and focused at becoming who she is today. I have seen her play so many roles in her career, and yet, she still had time for the most important jobs of being mother and wife. Over the years, I have given her a hard time about working so hard and so much, but when we needed her, she was always there. Only after becoming a working mom myself can I truly appreciate all the sacrifices she has made for me through the years. I enjoy now seeing her interact with my children. She is an amazing grandmother and, even though she gets busy, she makes sure to see the grandkids at least once a month. 
As a member of STTI, I am personally grateful to Prevost for her passion for nursing and her willingness to role model, over the course of an exemplary career, the honor society’s pillars of service, professional endeavor and leadership. Her personal and professional story reflects the centrality of love—Storgé, courage—Tharsos, and honor—Timé. As she assumes the presidency of Sigma Theta Tau International, I hope you will join me in sending congratulations to her and also express your appreciation to her family for supporting her on this leadership journey.
Jane Marie Kirschling, DNS, RN, FAAN, is dean and professor at the University of Kentucky College of Nursing in Lexington, Kentucky, USA.
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