A sister and doctor: Meet Sister Arrianne Whittaker
Sister Arrianne Whittaker is very familiar with the Wabash Valley Health Center, Terre Haute, Indiana.
This is where the Sister of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, returned there this summer as an intern through the Summer Hoosier Rural Preceptorship (SHRP) program. The program is under the direction of Union Hospital’s Richard G. Lugar Center for Rural Health and in partnership with Union’s Family Medicine Residency.
The program introduces medical students to health care in under-served populations throughout Indiana and Illinois.
After graduating from college, Sister Arrianne first came to the clinic to serve as a volunteer. At the time, the clinic was known as the St. Ann Medical and Dental Services Clinic and was a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Providence.
“It was an amazing experience, and indeed, quite a providential one, too,” Sister Arrianne said. “I was trying to figure out a backup plan at the beginning of my senior year because while I knew I likely wanted to still go to medical school, I also felt something was holding me back from taking the leap.
“So, I decided to apply for a few volunteer programs to spend a year trying to ‘regroup’ and fully intended to go back to school the following year.”
Sister Arrianne said she looked at several volunteer programs, applied to two and was accepted by one.
“That is how I landed in Terre Haute and with the Sisters of Providence so many years ago,” she said. “I am still not sure I know how it all happened. The only reasonable explanation is it truly was Providence.”
Sister Arrianne said her year of volunteering was quite the eye-opening experience.
“I loved my year at the clinic,” she said. “I feel that my year asked me to move beyond the apathy I so often found myself wallowing in. To be silent when injustice was being committed all around me was no longer an option. That year taught me that I have a voice and can use that voice to create change.
“On a personal level, that year afforded me much growth. It was a difficult year in many respects. It was a year of having to grow up, face my fears and accept that I didn’t have full control over how my life would turn out. I had to surrender everything I had ever dreamed about in my life in order to allow for a new vision, one shaped and formed by the Providence of God to take root.”
During her volunteer year at the clinic, Sister Arrianne drew closer to the Sisters of Providence. The Congregation’s motherhouse is located 10 minutes northwest of downtown Terre Haute.
As she grew closer to the sisters and Congregation, her life plans were changing.
“Through it all, I felt so blessed and happy to be where I was,” Sister Arrianne said. “I never questioned that I was meant to be doing what I was doing. The joy I felt from the internal surrender of all my plans was a thrilling and healing presence which embraced me, allowing me to grow in ways I didn’t even know possible.”
Only three years after coming to the clinic, Sister Arrianne, now 29, entered the Sisters of Providence. She is a temporarily professed Sister of Providence. She will be heading into her second year of medical school at Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Indianapolis in the fall.
If she continues down this path and finishes medical school, Sister Arrianne will become the first medical doctor in the Sisters of Providence Congregation.
Born in Indianapolis, Sister Arrianne grew up in Germantown, Wisconsin. She said for as long as she can remember, she wanted to work in medicine.
“Since I was 4, I can remember wanting to be a doctor,” she said. “I remember sitting under my dad’s desk even at that age and playing with his old leather physician’s bag, which is why it is so special to me that shortly before I began my medical school education, he called me into his room to give me a gift. It was my very own physician’s bag!
Sister Arrianne’s father, Michael, is a pathologist. Her mother, Kathy, is a registered nurse with a specialization in pediatrics.
“I have always wanted to be in medicine,” Sister Arrianne said. “Going to medical school has always been on my differential as they say. That’s a little medical humor!”
The Wabash Valley Health Center was founded in 1997. Currently, it operates as a Federally Qualified Health Center.
Chief Executive Officer Charles Welker said while the center is no longer a ministry of the Sisters of Providence, there are sisters who still volunteer there. Sister Beth Wright also ministers there as a medical records specialist.
Welker added having Sister Arrianne at the center this summer was a wonderful experience.
“It’s unique that through the SHRP program, we have a sister and can still maintain that connection to the Sisters of Providence,” Welker said. “For me, obviously it’s non-traditional that a Sister of Providence would want to become a doctor. But how unique it is that someone who made that commitment for life would also want to make this commitment through service, serving those who are underserved? It’s quite a dynamic tie. It helps us fulfill our mission.”
While Sister Arrianne said she is not quite sure what she wants to practice, she said she would be interested in family medicine and pediatrics.
And of her time back where she experienced her life-changing moment? Sister Arrianne said that in some ways, she feels like a “proud mama!”
“It is really remarkable to see how much the clinic has grown,” she said. “I feel as though I share in the ownership of where the clinic is today. I was so blessed to be a part of so much growth in the year I volunteered at the clinic, and even still, the growth which has occurred beyond this year was unimaginable seven years ago.”