The Woman Who Has Helped 3,000 Quit Smoking

Northwestern Medicine
Health and Wellness June 21, 2012
Carol Southard, MSN, RNI met an unsung hero while buying six packs of cigarettes at a local store some seven years ago. She tapped me on the shoulder, handed me her card and said, ‘you really should call me’ before walking away. Once I got over my ego boost of thinking she was trying to pick me up, I looked at her card and saw she was a smoking cessation counselor. Like all veteran smokers (I was 53 years old at the time and had smoked since I was in my early teens) I had it in the back of my mind that I would quit one day and that would happen, well, one day. When I was diagnosed with diabetes a year later that day had come.
Before I called Carol I discovered that there was a whole world of people trying to tell you how to quit smoking. While there was a seemingly endless supply of patches, acupuncturists, inhalers, meditation programs, gum, pills, and hypnotists to help you, there was not much in the way of guidance.

She was always a positive force and provided great support without being a cheerleader. I have been tobacco-free for seven years now, and I have Carol to thank for it.

Jonathan Alper shared these kinds words as one of 3,000 grateful patients Carol Southard, MSN, RN, has seen over the past 27 years in her lifesaving work as a tobacco treatment specialist at Northwestern Integrative Medicine. In addition to helping smokers quit through the 8-week program, she has been passionate about educating healthcare providers about smoking cessation counseling and has worked with government officials to help create a smoke-free environment. Her efforts, along with heartfelt nominations from patients like Jonathan Alper, have earned her the American Lung Association and Koop Foundation Unsung Heroes in Tobacco Control.

“I am very proud of the recognition,” Southard says. “Many people think smokers should just stop and don’t realize that smokers need treatment too. It’s an addiction.”

With a master’s degree in nursing administration, Southard originally thought she would someday become a nurse manager, but her career path quickly changed after working in various critical care areas. “I knew instinctively I wanted to focus on keeping people out of the hospital. Too much of what I was seeing could have been prevented,” she says.

After doing some research, she learned that the medical issues she had seen were related to tobacco use. When the Center for Lifestyle Medicine was in early development, medical director Robert Kushner, MD, MS, professor of Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, wanted to have a tobacco treatment program as part of the wellness offerings, which gave Southard the new career opportunity she wanted.

“Whether she is leading a group, presenting to healthcare professionals at an invited grand rounds, or talking to second year medical students in our medical school, she brings unique and contagious enthusiasm for the need to understand the addiction of tobacco and to provide help to every smoker,” Dr. Kushner says.

Southard’s work has taken her on speaking tours from Alaska to Vietnam, she has written chapters in books and has also raised charitable funds to give underserved patients access to the smoking cessation group program. Southard tracks all of her clients for one year after completing the program and 56 percent of her patients remain tobacco-free. A 30 percent “quit rate” is considered successful.

“It has been a challenge being in this profession, but it has been incredibly rewarding,” she says.

Southard’s motivation to combat tobacco addiction is unwavering, and is often fueled by messages of thanks, like the one from Jonathan Alper.

Carol has become a friend. I marvel at her energy and her dedication to what is now, and probably always has been, a calling rather than a job. She is a true Unsung Hero despite the fact that there is a large and extremely enthusiastic choir of over 3,000 ex-smokers who, if they could all be assembled in one place, would loudly sing her praises.

For more information about quitting smoking, visit the Northwestern Integrative Medicine smoking cessation page or call 312-926-2069.

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