April 12, 2019

Faith and family guide mother of seven to live her dream of becoming a doctor

As she nears her graduation from Marian University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine in May, Ann Schmitt, left, celebrates with her daughter Madeline after receiving the news on March 15 that she has been accepted for a residency in family practice medicine at IU Health’s Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

As she nears her graduation from Marian University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine in May, Ann Schmitt, left, celebrates with her daughter Madeline after receiving the news on March 15 that she has been accepted for a residency in family practice medicine at IU Health’s Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

When Ann Schmitt graduates from medical school on May 4, the 41-year-old woman will celebrate the occasion with her husband and her seven children who range in age from 20 to 3.

The celebration will mark the end of an improbable journey—and the beginning of another one—that even Schmitt calls “surprising.”

Start with the reality that 12 years ago her first husband walked out of their home and their marriage, leaving her as a single mother of six children who were then ages 8 to 2.

Add in the fact that Schmitt—a high school graduate and a stay-at-home mom at the time—then decided to move her family from Michigan to the Indianapolis area so she could pursue her childhood dream of becoming a doctor.

There are also the details of how she married her husband Bryan in 2012 as she was earning her college degree, and how she became pregnant with her seventh child in 2015 while she was in medical school.

If all of that seems overwhelming, consider that Schmitt never felt that way because of the one relationship she could always count on at every point of her journey.

“God was always with me,” says Schmitt, a member of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg. “I could feel his presence.”

Then came the moment when even that relationship changed—for the worse.

It happened in the days after she nearly bled to death while delivering her seventh child, Nathan, on Feb. 26, 2016.

‘It shook my faith’

During that time, Schmitt felt a loneliness she had never experienced before, a feeling that often left her in tears.

Part of it was the physical pain from the emergency C-section that was needed to deliver her son, and the several hours of efforts to save her life following the loss of five liters of blood from her body.

Yet it was an even deeper spiritual pain that troubled her—the feeling that God had abandoned her for the first time in her life.

“It shook my faith,” she says. “I used to feel God was with me. I didn’t feel his presence. I didn’t understand why that happened. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t take care of my children. It was a long recovery.

“Through the divorce and other things, I always felt God was giving me a lesson, a next step, a way to show my children you could go on to the next thing.”

She pauses before referring to the near-death moment. “I didn’t know what lesson I had to learn from that.”

Prayer had always helped her before, especially when her first husband had left their family.

“Ever since I became a mother, whether I’m under stress or joyful, I pray the Hail Mary,” she says. “A sense of calm comes over me, and the answers come to me. I distinctly remember sitting in the rocking chair next to the Christmas tree in 2007. I prayed the Hail Mary, and something just clicked. I said, ‘I’m going back to school, and I’m going to med school.’ ”

She chose Indianapolis for two reasons. It moved her closer to her parents and her best friend, her brother Dan. The city also had colleges and a medical school—Indiana University School of Medicine—so she wouldn’t have to move her family again, she reasoned.

It happened just as she had planned—almost.

She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from Marian University in Indianapolis in 2013. Yet instead of entering IU’s medical school, she entered Marian’s new School of Osteopathic Medicine in 2014.

The dream was in reach until the nightmare of nearly dying rocked her world and her faith. During that time, even her prayers didn’t help. Yet a touch of Providence did.

‘There must be something more here for you to do’

One of the best friends that Schmitt has made during medical school is Providence Sister Arrianne Whitaker, who is following her dream of being a religious sister and a medical doctor.

Sister Arrianne helped to comfort Schmitt during her time of recovery and her crisis of faith. She is also the one who helped Schmitt see that God hadn’t abandoned her.

“She helped me recover emotionally, mentally and spiritually,” Schmitt recalls. “Arianne said, ‘Well, he didn’t take you away. There must be something more here for you to do.’ ”

That purpose began to unfold for Schmitt during the medical rotations she has done to help her decide which specialty was the right one for her future as a doctor. The more patients she dealt with, the more she realized that her own time of pain, suffering and doubt helped her better connect with them and care for them.

“Because I had gone through something major, it makes me have more compassion for my patients,” she says. “A lot of patients think doctors are better than them. This brings me down to my patients. I know how they’re feeling.”

Her rotations included one in the family practice medicine unit at IU Health’s Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis—the same unit where she delivered her seventh child, the same unit that she credits with saving her life following the delivery.

So when it came time for the Marian medical students who will be graduating this year to list their potential “matches” for a residency next year, Schmitt placed the family practice medicine unit at Methodist at the top of her list.

“I love taking care of kids. I love taking care of the elderly. I love to take care of newborns and families. In family practice, I can do all of that.”

On March 15, an ecstatic Schmitt learned she had received her first choice.

Her thoughts quickly turned to God.

“I thought, ‘OK, this is where you want me to be. This is what you want me to do.’ ”

She pauses before adding, “I try to lead my life with my faith. I try to listen to that voice where God says, ‘This is why you’re here.’ ”

‘No dream is too big’

As graduation nears, Schmitt sometimes looks back and marvels at the challenges she’s overcome to get into medical school and get through it.

She also understands why some people say it would have been easier for her to take on this dream in her twenties instead of as a 40-something mother of seven.

Yet in her heart, Schmitt believes that she couldn’t have made it through medical school without her husband Bryan and her children—Corrina, 20, Madeline, 18, Sydney, 16, twins Audrey and Joseph, 14, Benjamin, 13, and Nathan, now 3.

“It was a hard adjustment being in medical school,” she says. “I don’t know if I would have been able to do this without their support.”

At the same time for Schmitt, becoming a doctor still doesn’t match what she will always consider as the most important role in her life—being a mother.

“I have always looked at my kids as a gift. They’re what has driven me. I knew I couldn’t feel sorry for myself when my first husband left. For whatever reason, God entrusted me with these kids, and it’s up to me to show them how to go on, that even when things are bad, they’re not that bad. Having the support of family is the most important thing in your life.”

Her husband Bryan says, “There have been challenges, and she worries that she doesn’t spend enough time with the kids, but overall it’s been good for the family. Family is the motivation for her. She not only wants to provide for the kids, she wants to set an example for them. The kids will be able to see that hard work pays off.”

No one has had a more front-row view of Schmitt’s journey during the past 12 years than her oldest child, Corrina.

“Growing up watching her, she’s one of the main reasons I’m not afraid to pursue my dreams—that no dream is too big, no matter what your circumstances,” says Corrina, a sophomore at Butler University in Indianapolis. “She’s the reason I’m pushing myself so hard in college.

“I don’t know how in the world she does what she does. She’s always busy, but not too busy for us. It’s amazing what she has done—going to undergrad, going to med school, and now she’s graduating. I’m sure there will be a lot of happy tears that day from all of us.”

‘My relationship with God has changed’

Schmitt even extends her definition of family to include friends from Marian’s med school, such as being a sister to a Sister.

“There have been rough patches for both of us, and she’s always been there for me in those moments,” Sister Arrianne says. “She’ll often send me videos of Nathan doing something silly when I most need it.

“From day one, I was just so amazed by her spirit and determination. She’s been through so much in her life. I count myself lucky I got to meet her. I know we’ll be great friends throughout life.”

There’s one other relationship that has deepened for Schmitt during her time in med school.

“My relationship with God has changed a lot,” she says. “It’s changed for the better. I’ve’ always felt close to him since I was little. Now I trust him more. It feels like a partnership. He’s given me the strength to do this.” †

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