Business Sense: Nursing career began at sister's bedside

Published on Sunday, 18 May 2014 19:22 - Written by

Jean Coleman’s favorite part of her 40-year career in health care was being able to serve others.

“I went into nursing to help others,” she said. “I had no intent to do the things I have done in my career. … When I look back on it, I couldn’t have asked for a better life and career.”

Mrs. Coleman, 64, worked for Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals & Clinics for 30 years, serving as supervisor, assistant director, director, vice president of patient services for the hospital and chief nursing officer for Trinity Mother Frances Health System. She retired in 2009.

In March, Mrs. Coleman was one of six “Women Who Care” honored at the 16th annual Women in Tyler luncheon.

“After giving over 40 years of service to the health care field and our entire multicultural community with other nurses and partners, it was gratifying to be recognized for a portion of my role that supported minority nurses and the underserved,” Mrs. Coleman said. “This recognition is such a positive approach by the Women in Tyler to strengthen the resolve of those that continue such a challenging mission as well as encourage more minorities to choose the health care field, especially nursing.”

Mrs. Coleman moved around a lot as a child during her father’s Army career. She was 8 years old when he died, and the family moved to Red Springs, where her parents were raised. She is the second oldest of five siblings and being uprooted from the military, where they were with children of different cultures, to a small segregated community was life changing. Her family had to explain to her what segregation was, she said. They taught her to not let anyone tell her she couldn’t do certain things.

It was hard for minorities to get health care at the time, so the community largely took care of themselves, Mrs. Coleman said. After an accident in which her younger sister was badly burned, she discovered she wanted to be a nurse.

As a teenager, she accompanied her sister to the hospital and throughout the “negative journey,” she met Dr. Patrick Thomas at Mother Frances. He told her what a good job she had done being an advocate for her sister and encouraged her to further her education.

Mrs. Coleman said for someone like Dr. Thomas to think highly of her changed her view of people. Through his encouragement, as well as her sister Ruby Neill’s illness, she picked up a keen sense of wanting to make a difference to anyone who needed care, she said. Her late aunt was a nurse in California and also talked to her about getting an education, taking care of herself, working hard and not settling.

She earned an associate’s degree from Tyler Junior College and a bachelor’s degree from The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing. She worked her way through school before taking her first nursing job at Breckenridge Hospital. After she became pregnant with her second child, she and her husband of 42 years, Charles, decided to move closer to family. She came to Tyler to have her baby while her husband finished his degree in Oklahoma.

Mrs. Coleman worked at East Texas Medical Center for nearly a year before working as an instructor and assistant administrator at Texas Eastern School of Nursing, now UT Tyler. After five years there, she received her master’s degree and went to work at Mother Frances.

Mrs. Coleman started a local chapter of the Black Nurses Association in 1991. She received the Nurse of the Year award from the association in 1997.

She also was active in the Texas Perinatal Association, which presented her with the Helen Farabee Leadership Award in 2000 for her efforts to improve the outcome of neonatal babies and pregnancies.

Mrs. Coleman considers it a huge professional honor to have been one of the few chosen in 2004 to be a fellow in the Johnson and Johnson-Wharton Program in management for nurse executives. Having a nurse serve as chief nursing officer, overseeing millions of dollars and more than 1,000 nurses, Mrs. Coleman was chosen to go to the University of Pennsylvania Wharton Business School for help in understanding finance/budgeting.

Because she’s always worked so hard, the main thing she has enjoyed since retiring is the opportunity to spend more time with her family and close friends. She doesn’t look for work but usually says yes when people ask for her help.

She has continued to work as a consultant and surveyor, evaluating health care facilities to make sure they are in compliance. She also has served as chief executive officer of the now defunct Total Healthcare Clinic and has served on numerous boards, including for the American Heart Association, March of Dimes, Tyler Day Nursery and Smith County Health Department. She said she will continue volunteering and serving on boards.

“I believe in giving back to the community because so much was given back to me and my family when we needed it,” Mrs. Coleman said.

She knew if she wanted to give her best, she needed to align herself with others who shared her passion. She said you can do something individually but can make a huge impact if you serve with others with the same vision.

The other Women in Tyler honorees were Beverly Beavers Brooks, Jennifer Carson, Verna Hall, Irma Rodriguez and Rebecca Taylor.