LJTMC nurse reflects on 21-year career
Lt. Col. Sharon Cole, deputy commander for patient services at Lawrence Joel Troop Medical Clinic and Southern Regional Medical Command Army public health nurse regional consultant.

For the past 110 years, the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) has been serving and standing with Soldiers and their Families, providing them with health care and improving their quality of life.

And for the past 21 years, Lt. Col. Sharon Cole, deputy commander for patient services at Lawrence Joel Troop Medical Clinic and Southern Regional Medical Command Army public health nurse regional consultant, has been proud to be a part of that tradition, and is looking forward to even more years of service.

It is a much different picture from one Cole first envisioned when she joined the Army in 1989.

"I planned on doing three years then going back to Pensacola (Fla.)," she said. Her hometown of Pensacola, home to a naval base, made her almost hesitant to join the military, said Cole.

Like many students, she was undecided as to what to do after high school, finally choosing to become a licensed practical nurse.

The one-year course allowed her to get a taste of the profession - a taste which she said she enjoyed.

Eventually, Cole began to work in the cancer unit at Baptist Hospital, Pensacola, where she met a Navy nurse.

"She asked me if I wanted to join the Navy, but I didn't want to," Cole said. She feared joining the Navy would keep her stuck in Pensacola. Wanting to travel, she went to an Army recruiter and signed up. "I fell in love with it," she said.

Much of the admiration came from opportunities the Army gave her careerwise, Cole said, adding she has worked as a medical nurse, a health promotion nurse and a preventive medicine nurse. It also gave a chance to expanded on her education, said Cole.

Through the Army, she earned her bachelor's of science in nursing at the University of South Alabama, Mobile, Ala., and a graduate degree as a Family nurse practitioner from Hampton University, Va. She is currently working on her doctorate in public health, a goal she plans to complete by January 2012. Besides education, the Army also offered Cole the opportunity to be a leader, both in her field and to other Soldiers.

She has mentored junior officers to join the ANC, adding she even encouraged one enlisted Soldier to go to Officer Candidate School to enter into the field. However, Cole said the most interesting case of recruiting someone into the field, and also one of the most memorable stories of her career, involved a woman in El Paso, Texas.

"When I first came in (the Army), I was working in a pediatric ward in William Beaumont Army Medical Center. We had a little girl there, Lea, who had cancer. I became fond of her," Cole said. Unfortunately, Lea succumbed to her illness. Though Lea was lost, Cole made an impact on her parents, especially Lea's mother, Rosalyn.

"Five years later, at a conference, a lady came up to me and said I probably didn't remember her," Cole said. The women was Rosalyn, who after seeing the type of care and commitment Cole and other Army nurses had displayed, decided to become an Army nurse herself.

Being an Army nurse requires flexibility, professionalism, loyalty and a willingness to learn, something Cole said she sees in abundance in new Army nurses. "You see so much energy and willingness to learn," she said. "You see the passion in their eyes."

That passion is necessary in a field constantly evolving, Cole said. She said in her own time, she has seen many changes in the corps, specifically in the goal of focusing on acute injuries and chronic illnesses, and focusing on an entire person's wellness. More changes will continue to take place, said Cole, especially under the direction of Maj. Gen Patricia Horoho, who took over as chief of ANC two years ago. Horoho has outlined a 15-year plan to revamp the corps.

"The plan will be driven by courage to do the right thing; innovation to meet the rapidly evolving war, fighting and medical demands of the 21st century; and constant compassion for those we serve and those with whom we serve," Horoho said.

The plan, though new, will continue to "embrace the past, engage the present, envision the future in support of Army medicine," she added. It is a future Cole wishes to be a part of for as long as possible.

"I plan on being around until they let me go," Cole said.

Page last updated Thu February 17th, 2011 at 15:01