Patient care with the love of Christ

Profile | Sheila Cox Sullivan

By Grant Stewart |

Throughout her life, Sheila Cox Sullivan (’82) has made it her mission to provide care and compassion to people in need and help them experience the love of God. This mission led her to a career in nursing.

Sullivan works as director for research, evidence-based practice and analytics in the Office of Nursing Services for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C. In this role, she combines that passion with her love for research to create better treatment plans for her patients.

“I know that in looking at these core nursing subjects like anatomy and physiology, science shows us that God designed everything,” Sullivan said. “In truth, my research is looking into exactly how God designed these intricate parts to function.”

In addition to exploring God’s design, Sullivan has dedicated her research to finding the best ways to help patients instead of accepting how things have always been done. This applies to her studies, teaching as a nursing research professor at Harding and current work.

Recently, her team has explored the importance of movement for hospital patients. In general, Sullivan said most patients are not very active during their time at the hospital, but her research has shown that ensuring patients are mobile during their stay can benefit them with shorter stays and better long-term health. She and her team continue to research and analyze how best to put this concept into practice.

Above all, compassionately serving her patients is the most important part of care to Sullivan. She knew from a very young age she wanted to be a nurse in order to help people, and at Harding she was encouraged to dedicate herself to the values that have driven her career.

“I went to a community college before I started classes at Harding, and I took some nursing courses there,” Sullivan said. “I remember during that time I asked what I should do if a patient asked me to pray with them. They told me never to pray with the patient but to bring the chaplain to them instead, but that was never the kind of nurse I wanted to be. Coming to Harding, I learned more about how to bring the love of Christ to my patients.”

Bringing the love of Christ to others, especially those who are vulnerable and suffering, is crucial to Sullivan in both her nursing career and her role as a board member for Ghana West Africa Missions, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing fresh water wells to people living in rural Africa without access to clean water. She believes Jesus’ compassion and attention to those who were hurting and downtrodden made the gospel an easily acceptable reality to them, and she strives to bring that same compassion into everything she does.

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