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July 30, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – Four years ago, Sister Sharon Spanbauer, OP, Nurse Practitioner, made a significant move – not in miles but in patients. She changed her ministry from treating retired Adrian Dominican Sisters at the Dominican Life Center (DLC) in Adrian to treating students in their late teens and early 20s at the neighboring Siena Heights University.
But whether treating retired Sisters with often complex medical conditions or young students with headaches or colds, Sister Sharon remains the caring nurse who focuses on healing her patients holistically. “Each person to whom I minister is the face of God,” she said.
Sister Sharon has been the Director of Health Services at Siena Heights University since 2015. During the school year, she runs a free, one-woman health clinic for the students, faculty, and staff members. “I’m here Monday to Friday, no appointment needed,” she said. “They come in and I assess them in the exam room and diagnose, and a lot of times I can treat them here with over-the-counter medications.” If a patient has a more complicated or a chronic illness, she said, she gives them “stop-gap care” and recommends that they have a primary health care provider in town.
Sister Sharon also gives TB tests for nursing students who must be tested before they begin clinical rotations, free flu shots, speaks to classes about health issues, and serves on Siena Heights University committees.
Sister Sharon said the most common complaints of her young patients are respiratory problems like colds or gastro-intestinal illnesses, but she has seen a wide variety of illnesses, including some cancer patients. She diagnosed one student with lymphoma. She also has surprising cases – such as the young man who had accidentally cut off the tip of his finger on the razor blade in his personal items kit. “I told him it would grow back and it did,” Sister Sharon recalled. “The human body is amazing.”
On a busy day, Sister Sharon said, she might see 10 patients. This gives her enough time to be thorough in her examinations. “I believe in examining and listening and really asking good questions, trying to understand who they are, what they’re studying, what their home life is like,” she said.
In addition, Sister Sharon gives her patients a listening ear, compassion, and healing, along with “a lot of information, some guidance, a lot of teaching,” she said. “Nobody comes here and sees me without coming out with some teaching. It’s the teacher in me.”
Sister Sharon enjoys her work with the students and finds them to be “very kind and thoughtful.” She added that she is “proud to work for a university that works so diligently to provide an education to those who might not otherwise have one. And I love the students. It’s just a joy, working with them and being able to use my skills in a really satisfying way.”
Sister Sharon said she also loved her ministry – from 2001 to 2014 – as a Nurse Practitioner with the Sisters at the Dominican Life Center. Typically, she said, the Sisters had “multiple diagnoses, multiple medications were far more complex, and required a level of rigor in my care of them,” she said. The clinic at Siena Heights University “is more relaxed – most of [the illnesses] are handled very simply.”
Like most Sisters, Sister Sharon began as a teacher. “I loved teaching and I loved my students, but I always wondered what in their life was happening that I knew nothing about,” she said. She yearned for a one-on-one ministry. In her search, Sister Sharon considered becoming a physician or a physical therapist, then decided to become a nurse practitioner after recalling her experience, while a novice, as a nursing assistant for the Sisters in the infirmary.
In 1989, Sister Sharon left her ministry as a chemistry teacher at Bishop Foley High School in Madison Heights, Michigan, to earn her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) from Wayne State University through its “second career, second degree” program. “Anyone with a degree could get a degree in nursing in 14 months, paid for by Henry Ford Hospital,” she recalled. She completed her clinicals at Henry Ford and worked at that hospital as a registered nurse for three years, from 1990 to 1993. The requirement was two years. She then served as home health care nurse until 1995.
Sister Sharon earned her Nurse Practitioner degree from Michigan State University and went on to minister at Dillon Family Medicine, a large, busy clinic in Dillon, South Carolina, sponsored by the Franciscan Sisters of Mary. Sister Sharon has been pleased with her choice to minister as a nurse practitioner. “I’ve been so fortunate,” she said. “When I went to the DLC I got to shape my role because I was the first nurse practitioner in Adrian. Nobody could figure out what I was.” She helped the hospital and the local physicians to understand that nurse practitioners had the training and certification to write orders, order lab tests, and receive reports about their patients.
She said she would recommend nursing and serving as a nurse practitioner to anybody who is considering it. “I think nursing is the perfect profession for many people – male and female,” Sister Sharon said. “You can do clinical work, research, work in a doctor’s office, in a school, in a prison system – it’s endless what you can do with your specific gift. You can find your place in nursing. If you feel called to help others, nursing is a natural choice.”