Alumna Makes a Difference in the Lives of Nurses and Their Patients

Posted: March 28, 2011 at 1:01 am, Last Updated: March 28, 2011 at 7:57 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Barbara Summers, vice president and chief nursing officer at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Photo courtesy of Barbara Summers

When Barbara Summers talks about her work, she frequently uses the word “passion,” and passionate she is. Summers has spent the past 13 years working at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, one of the top cancer centers in the country.

As vice president and chief nursing officer at MD Anderson, Summers, who has a BSN, MSN and PhD in nursing from Mason, is responsible for the professional welfare and training of almost 3,000 nurses.

Working in an area with many schools of nursing, she also serves as head of the Nursing Division there, where she has devoted her career to developing nurses clinically. Occasionally, she will also teach in a classroom setting.

Summers first grew interested in oncology nursing early in her career, just after completing her BSN at Mason.

“I was intrigued by the complexity of [the patients’] clinical courses,” she says. She believes working in oncology requires a lot of creativity, and that’s what drew her to clinical care and ultimately a master’s degree in the field.

“[Cancer care] is really about healing the whole person,” says Summers, who was inducted into the American Academy of Nursing as a fellow in 2009.

“In many instances, the patient feels otherwise healthy, but so much of the treatment has the potential to cause side effects. It is important to evaluate how each individual patient is doing and develop a plan that optimizes support for them. These are challenges where nurses can play a role.”

Summers also has worked with nurses internationally.

“It is always fascinating to hear about nursing practices elsewhere,” Summers says. “Despite our geographic and cultural differences, it is still easy to find a common ground in nursing, and that’s a very special thing to be able to share.”

In 2009, Summers was recognized by Mason’s College of Health and Human Services with its annual Alumna of the Year Award. She traveled to the Fairfax Campus last year with her husband, George Summers, BA ’77, whom she met in a speech communication class at Mason.

It had been almost 13 years since Summers had been on campus, and she says she was astounded when her assistant handed her a campus map in preparation for her trip. “I knew that the university had been growing, but I still was surprised by the changes and impressed with the level of sophistication.”

While on campus, Summers met with former classmates and gave a talk to alumni and faculty in which she shared her personal journey in nursing and described the opportunities that helped shape her career.

“Work is such an important part of my life,” she says. “One of the things I like best about this job is that I can make a difference in the lives of these nurses and the patients they care for.”

She adds, “To find work that is your passion — that is a gift.”

This article originally appeared in a slightly different format in the College of Health and Human services magazine, Dimensions, vol. 17, 2011.

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