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Patricia Thompson named 2008 Distinguished Alumni Award Winner

Thompson has a long volunteer history with the honor society of nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI).
Patricia Thompson, EdD, RN, FAAN, recently was awarded the 2008 Distinguished Alumni Award by the School of Nursing Chapter of the UAB National Alumni Society. A long volunteer history with the honor society of nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI), including serving as president from 1991 to 2001, led to her current role as CEO of the organization. She was impressed with STTI from the beginning.

“I really believe in STTI’s mission,” Thompson says, “and I immediately saw that it was an organization that identifies goals and implements them. I never had a thought of being a CEO, but things just came together at the right time. I was at a point in my career when I was looking for change—wanting to do something different.”

Thompson entered the nursing school at UAB in 1970 as a master’s student. Two mentors quickly made a big impact on her: the late Elwynn “Chick” Hale, EdD, RN, FAAN. “Dr. Hale was a pediatrics faculty member, and she worked closely with me throughout my program. She gave me a great deal of support in the area of pediatrics. Dr. Kelley worked with me on my teaching and faculty roles.”

Thompson’s time at UAB foreshadowed her career with STTI, because it was during her nursing studies here that she was inducted into the honor society. “That was the beginning of my membership and my career, which is how I ended up where I am today with the organization,” she says.

STTI now was chapters in 22 countries and members from 90 countries. The United States boasts the largest membership, but the honor society is expanding its global initiatives. “We’re trying to conserve resources and work together to accomplish mutual goals for the benefit of nursing and health care.”

Thompson adds that she’s concerned about the need to develop nursing leaders within the United States. “Leadership, particularly in nursing, goes across all areas. There has been media coverage of both the nursing shortage in health-care facilities and the faculty shortage. But not many people are addressing the vacuum in nurse leadership that’s going to exist when those of us who have been at the forefront retire. There aren’t enough programs to help build the leadership component. Leadership and scholarship are two primary areas of focus for STTI.”

Regardless of one’s career path, Thompson believes that we all have a responsibility to give back, whether it’s through volunteering or mentoring. “I also think it’s important for people to try things even if they don’t succeed,” she says. “Part of my philosophy is that failure can be a growth experience. If something doesn’t work, then try to determine why it didn’t work, and decide if you want to try again or go in a different direction. You may reach your goal or you may not, but the process will help you learn and grow.”

For students considering a career in nursing, Thompson has this advice: “It’s absolutely a wonderful, rewarding profession, and you can truly make a difference in so many ways. You also have such a wide variety of career options. Besides the many different nursing specialties, depending on your interest area, you can be a consultant, and entrepreneur, a faculty member. You can work in a hospital, be community-based, or work with industry. The options are endless.”

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