Q&A with UM School of Nursing Dean Barnes-Witherspoon

Kathy DeanFaculty Q&A, Graduate, Health, News

Caring for people who are sick and afraid requires more than the ability to give an injection or set up an IV. As a student in the School of Nursing at the University of Mobile, you learn from a team of professors with more than 100 years of combined clinical experience, plus you have the advantage of the state-of-the-art Center for Excellence in Healthcare Practice. We asked Dr. Sarah Barnes-Witherspoon, dean of the School of Nursing in the College of Health Professions, for an inside look at what it’s like to teach and learn in this Christ-centered academic community.

Q: What is your background?

A: My career in health care began in 1973 as a mental health worker, License Practical Nurse (Southwest State Technical Institute), Registered Nurse (Bishop State), BSN and MSN (Mobile College/University of Mobile). I learned how to balance family, church, work and school. Failure was never an option. I had over 27 years of employment at Searcy Hospital (never a dull moment!). During those years, I was certified as a psychiatric-mental health nurse and worked with the State of Alabama as a legal nurse consultant. My professional first love is psychiatric-mental health nursing.

Q: You said God called you to teach at UM. Tell us your UM story.

A: My employment at the University of Mobile happened unexpectedly. One Sunday evening, a former colleague called and asked if I was interested in teaching psychiatric-mental health nursing. Later that day, Dr. Rosemary Adams, dean of the School of Nursing, called and asked me to come in for an interview on Monday morning. I had a job offer mid-week, and I didn’t know what to do.

So I began to pray to God for direction. I was working at a job that I loved, and a new opportunity was mine as well. After about a week, God spoke to me and said, “I gave this to you.” My response was, thank you, Lord! August 2021 is my 20th anniversary at UM. In 2016, I received my terminal degree (Ph.D.) at William Carey University. While at UM, I advanced from instructor through all of the various ranks. Now, I serve as the dean of nursing. I have not regretted one moment. I challenge whoever is reading my statement to do your part, and the Lord will elevate you in due season.

Q: Why should someone choose to study nursing at UM?

A: The University of Mobile School of Nursing program is personable. The nursing faculty members maintain an open-door policy and know each student by name. They have worked at the bedside and have many years of experience and expertise to share. The faculty expects professionalism, honesty, integrity and compassion from our student nurses.

Q: What is your favorite class to teach and why?

A: My favorite class is Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing because I can reminisce about my Searcy years and provide many real-life experiences. Then I have the opportunity to role-play some of the psych-disorders. Many people fear the idea of working with individuals who are diagnosed with a psych disorder. Working in a psychiatric facility is disturbing when a person is experiencing a psychotic episode. But, I’m delighted when the medications begin to work, and the individual can return home.

Q: UM offers “Higher Education for a Higher Purpose.” What does that mean to you?

A: We all have a purpose-driven life. In health care, “it’s not about you.” Nurses serve individuals when they are in their most vulnerable states. Education is the foundation that prepares nurses for a higher purpose. As a nurse, a touch, smile, greeting, or conversation may be the only kindness a patient receives.