October 30, 2020

2020 Vocations Awareness Supplement

Providence sister brings faith to medical ministry during pandemic

Providence Sister Arrianne Whittaker, center, second row, celebrates with fellow members of her religious community after graduating in 2019 from medical school at Marian University in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

Providence Sister Arrianne Whittaker, center, second row, celebrates with fellow members of her religious community after graduating in 2019 from medical school at Marian University in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

By Jason Moon (Special to The Criterion)

Born in 1986 in Indianapolis, Providence Sister Arrianne Whittaker’s life journey took her and her family to many different areas in the United States. By the time she was 5, the family settled in Germantown, Wis., where she graduated from high school in 2005.

“I tell people I am a Hoosier by birth, but a ‘Cheesehead’ by choice,” Sister Arrianne said.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences from Marquette University in Milwaukee, she learned about the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods’ volunteer ministry and elected to take a year off from school to volunteer for the congregation.

“I literally learned about Providence Volunteer Ministries on a whim, through a volunteer fair that was at Marquette,” Sister Arrianne said. “I attended the fair at the last minute as I didn’t have a plan for my next year and thought doing a year of volunteer service might be an interesting way to discern my next steps.”

Sister Arrianne also said she wanted to make sure she still wanted to be a doctor during the year away from school. As she continued volunteering with the congregation, she knew she wanted to minister as a doctor, and become a woman religious with the Sisters of Providence.

“I really count providence as a huge part of the reason I came to Providence Volunteer Ministries,” Sister Arrianne said. “I absolutely did not have any plan to become a sister at the time, but I never realized how big of a change coming to the Woods would make in my life.”

In 2012, Sister Arrianne entered the congregation and later followed her parent’s footsteps by entering medical school. Her father is a medical doctor, and her mother is a nurse.

In 2019, she achieved her lifelong dream by graduating from medical school at Marian University in Indianapolis. Since graduating, she has ministered as a resident physician at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis.

Then earlier this year, the coronavirus reared its ugly head. To date, more than 40 million people have been infected with the virus worldwide, including more than 8 million Americans. In Indiana, more than 160,000 people have tested positive for the virus. And in Marion County, where Indianapolis is located, more than 26,000 people have tested positive, with almost 800 deaths.

Sister Arrianne said she never thought her early experiences in the medical field would include dealing with a pandemic and with patients who were infected with COVID-19. It is in this reality that she continues to live out the congregation’s core mission of collaborating with others to create a more just and hope-filled world through prayer, education, service and advocacy.

“It’s a privilege and an honor to serve in this way during the pandemic,” Sister Arrianne said. “But it is an extremely difficult time for medical care professionals. I fear for my colleagues who are high risk, and I’m frustrated with the stubbornness of this virus.

“However, working with COVID-19 patients has been life-giving because it feels like I really am making a difference. But it is a very difficult disease to watch people suffer through. I never would have guessed that this pandemic would coincide with my initial years as a physician, and I imagine that what I have seen and experienced in the last six months will mold me for years to come as I learn who my identity as a doctor really is.”

Despite the pressures of ministering in the medical field during a pandemic, Sister Arrianne said she believes providence has “called me and my colleagues to be present in this way at this time for a reason.”

“I’m trusting that as we continue to walk the unknown of this path, we will be given strength, resilience, courage, trust and knowledge needed to overcome any challenges this disease presents,” Sister Arrianne continued.

Through her initial experiences with her ministry, Sister Arrianne said she has a greater appreciation of how doctors are “healers” and how that correlates directly with the Sisters of Providence’s core mission.

“It is one thing to take care of a patient from a medical perspective, but often in these times, I’ve been called to be a companion through the anxiety and fear that this disease evokes,” she said. “I am also very aware of how important our role is in communicating with patients’ families. Oftentimes, we are the only connection they have to their loved one.”

(Jason Moon is the media relations manager for the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. For more information about the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, visit spsmw.org.)


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