By her own account, Sheri Gentry, University of Findlay assistant professor of teaching in physician assistant, has had several formidable experiences in her life that directly led to the position in which she finds herself today. After an eye injury left her with both eyes covered for a period of time at the age of thirteen, for instance, she was able to experience the close care of hospital staff without being able to see them. That occurrence, along with the guidance of school counselors and actual medical personnel, helped her as a young woman, toward the path of being a physician assistant. And now, after many years of clinical work, and several in academia, Gentry is retiring from UF and preparing herself for what comes next.
After deciding upon a major in physician assistant, Gentry enrolled at Lake Erie College in the late 1970s–one of the few schools in the country that had a program dedicated to the then relatively new major and profession. Students at the college were required by the school to travel abroad for an academic term. Everyone had to do it, she said, and they could either go somewhere that the college set up for them or come up with their own ideas and run it by the steering committee. After plans to take an exciting trip to New Zealand fell through because of lack of funding, Gentry found herself in Mexico for that fateful term, not living the exciting dream of travel abroad.
It wasn’t long after arriving in Mexico that she got very sick, Gentry recalled, and ended up in a bed, sweating profusely and convinced she was going to die. “I was doing a lot of praying, and remembered that someone had told me that, when you pray, you don’t just talk, you listen,” she said. The answer to her listening came in one terse sentence: You are here for a reason. Gentry said that the realization was so powerful that she’s carried it with her throughout her life, and has applied it to everything she finds herself involved with. Her roommate in Mexico got some over the counter antibiotics for her, and Gentry was soon on the mend and headed toward a life of equal parts graciousness and gratitude.
She began her career doing mainly clinical work, and found a genuine interest in both surgery and women’s health. Those interests, combined with a heart for helping those less fortunate, found her, early after graduating, doing mission work for Haiti. “I actually ended up there three times in total,” she said. And, as she was helping to care for mothers and their newborn babies from delivery onward, she said, one of those aforementioned “formidable experiences” came into her life once again, in the form of a “little, tiny three-pound baby. Her mom had died,” she said, “and I was caring for her. She needed heart surgery, and that availability wasn’t there in Haiti.” So, in an example of the selfless grace that makes Gentry such an effective and well-revered part of the UF family, she adopted the little girl, and she, Georgette, is now 31 years old.
Gentry, along with her husband, Mike, and extended family of four children in sum and two living granddaughters, explained that she took the talents and passions that she learned during those young years, and applied them to her time at UF. “I discovered talents as a student that can change lives,” she explained, “that informed my life, and I see that happening in my students now.”
Marveling at the impact she has made on students at UF is something that Gentry, who calls herself a “PA as a title, but a teacher at heart,” is visibly proud of. She calls it a privilege to have all of the experiences she’s had and to be able to pass the knowledge of such experiences on to them. She explained that UF, as a smaller school with smaller classes, was an optimal fit for her. “You can impact, inspire, and empower on a whole different level when it’s a University like this one. It has challenged me every day. I love watching students’ brains just opening up. That’s a definite highlight.”
After going through a lifestyle change that includes losing weight, gaining confidence, and growing joy, Gentry is moving on from UF to start her own business as a wellness coach and live a more flexible life with her family. And, while she’s leaving a job and University that she holds dear, she feels very strongly that it’s time to take the skills she uses best–teaching, coaching, helping, empathizing–and utilize them in expanded ways and for a different audience. She mentioned that there are surely folks who may think she’s crazy for walking away from a life of comfort and static security; but complacency, it seems, is clearly not something she is overly comfortable with.
“It’s really about role modeling life all the way around,” she said. “Being an enthusiastic lifelong learner. Creating space for someone else. It’s not about me, really, and it never has been. It’s humbling, teaching, in its many forms, and the potential of these students here is amazing. What an amazing gift it’s been,” she said. “Just a huge blessing.”