Right outside the elevator doors, on the third floor of Betsy Cheramie Ayo Hall, Rebecca Lyons steps into a small lobby lined with composite photos of Nicholls nurses. It’s a powerful glimpse at the generations of RNs the university has prepared — from the class of 1986 to present. For Lyons, it’s also a place of deep pride.
As a former intensive care unit nurse, she worked alongside many of the graduates pictured. As the Nicholls nursing department head, she has taught even more of them. And, as she sometimes points out to students, she’s on the wall herself — look in the 1986 frame, bottom row, fourth from right. Her hair color is different, she says with a laugh, but not much else has changed.
“I thought I was going to live and die as an ICU nurse. I loved every second of it,” Lyons says. “I never thought I’d go into higher education, but it’s been an incredible experience. To work with students whose whole careers are in front of them is so fulfilling but also intense. Some days, taking on seven open-heart surgeries by myself would be easier than this job.”
Lyons describes her 12 years in Terrebonne General Medical Center’s ICU as “crazy-busy” but exhilarating. Her husband, Tommy, kept things together while the mother of two worked countless days, nights, holidays and weekends. One fateful shift, Lyons decided she wanted more out of her nursing career. She enrolled in an online graduate program and earned her master’s degree, opening the door to a new career path.
Since joining the Nicholls faculty in 2000, Lyons has approached teaching the same way she approached nursing: with a relentless attention to detail, professionalism and good bedside — or deskside — manner. She doesn’t take herself too seriously and infuses humor whenever possible. She believes in the power of being nice and having a positive outlook.
“I have a rule here. You have two minutes to complain a day,” says Lyons, who became department head in 2005. “Get it out of your system and then move on to something more productive.”
The consummate perfectionist says she gets her work ethic from her mother, who worked relentlessly and raised four children on her own after Lyons’ father passed away when Lyons was only 6.
“I learned to do things well the first time because I may never have a second chance,” she says.
When the workaholic Lyons isn’t in Ayo Hall, she enjoys attempting to grow tomatoes, collecting dishes and china patterns to fill her 8-foot armoire and many kitchen hutches, and “keeping house” at her restored 1869 Creole cottage in Thibodaux. She says cleaning house is her therapy, but when she really needs to unwind, she heads to the Lyons family camp on Four Point Bayou in Dulac with Tommy, her husband of 28 years; Dave, her entrepreneurial-minded son; and Katherine, her daughter who’s an art senior at Nicholls.
Looking back, Lyons isn’t sure why she decided to major in nursing or how she became head of the department where she was once a student, but she believes in the forces of destiny.
“In the ICU, you witness people who should’ve died and didn’t, and you witness people who shouldn’t have died and did,” she says. “In our youth, we try to figure out why, but with time, we learn that things happen for a reason and we can’t question it. So we just do the best that we can. Things find us, and I guess nursing found me.
— Written by Stephanie Detillier Verdin, publications coordinator
This article originally appeared in the fall 2013 issue of Voila! magazine. Click here to read the entire issue.