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Journey from MD to Nurse Practitioner Culminates at UTHSC College of Nursing

practitioner, she feels her life's journey has brought her to her work caring for children.
UTHSC College of Nursing alumna Dr. Filipina “Pin” Schnabel has been both physician and nurse. As a nurse practitioner, she feels her life’s journey has brought her to her current work caring for children.

When Filipina “Pin” Cevallos Schnabel was a teenager, a jellyfish bite triggered mastocytosis – an illness involving the mast cells – which introduced her to the health care world as a regular visitor to emergency rooms in her home country of the Philippines.

Mast cells are involved in allergic reactions, and Dr. Schnabel suffers from a rare and serious form of mastocytosis in which her allergic reactions often result in anaphylaxis – a life-threatening response.

Her health challenges inspired a commitment to be part of the healing professions – a theme that would be repeated throughout a life and career that has included work that began as a physician, but ultimately led her to become a nurse practitioner, earning her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) at the UTHSC College of Nursing. “I was around the doctors and the nurses, and they were so compassionate and intelligent that I decided I wanted to be a doctor and be in that world,” she said, describing her life as a young woman.

The Doctor Receives Expert Care

She did become Dr. Cevallos and was a member of the medical faculty at the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines, as well as practicing as an Ear, Nose and Throat-Head and Neck surgeon. She even completed a fellowship in voice and swallowing disorders at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York. However, a bout with breast cancer in her thirties caused her to reconsider her priorities. While still in the Philippines, she met and married a man from Tennessee, which meant a move to his home of Manchester – a small town about an hour from Nashville.

Dr. Pin Cevallos became Pin Schnabel at age 40, and she and her husband, Michael, were soon expecting a baby. But their joy was followed by tragic news in the second trimester that the infant suffered from multiple congenital anomalies. The Schnabels understood that their baby would not survive long after her birth. Isabella Rosemary Schnabel lived 19 days in the Vanderbilt University Medical Center NICU where “they were so caring for us, the doctors and the nurses,” she said.

Dr. Schnabel recalled a nurse in the NICU who gave her husband his own Rosary because he knew the couple are Roman Catholic. “We were suffering, but were being blessed by the people around us,” she said.

Becoming a Nurse

Her experience there emphasized her desire to return to the world of health care. But this time, she chose nursing because it offered better work-life balance and because “the impression given to me by the nurses in Vanderbilt and the experience when our daughter was in the NICU was beyond amazing,” she said.

Dr. Schnabel earned her BSN at East Tennessee State University, her MSN at Belmont University and her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree at the UTHSC College of Nursing. During that six-year journey into the nursing profession, Dr. Schnabel learned a new way of viewing patients.

“A nurse looks at the whole person, not just at the illness,’’ she said. “A nurse thinks about how is the patient’s family support and can they afford their medication? I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so nice. This is wonderful.’ ”

She is grateful to her instructors who helped her learn to think like a nurse. “They were wonderful teachers who helped me transform my brain,” she said.

Although she could have worked as a nurse practitioner without earning a DNP, Dr. Schnabel said she chose to pursue the DNP because it is the terminal degree for nurse practitioners.

The Institute of Medicine’s Future of Nursing report in 2010 recommended doubling the number of nurses pursing doctorates by 2020. “The DNP opens up other possibilities and leadership and teaching roles,” she said. She chose UTHSC for the program’s high quality and longevity. It is the second-oldest DNP program in the country.

“I learned so much about quality improvement at UTHSC,” said Dr. Schnabel, who graduated in May 2021.

Dr. Laura Reed, concentration coordinator for the Family Nurse Practitioner program in the College of Nursing, said, “Pin was an excellent student. She was always willing to share her clinical experience and knowledge with other students. She excelled as a team member and did incredible work. She is a shining example of a DNP graduate and will continue to contribute greatly to her clinical practice.”

As an advanced practice nurse, Dr. Schnabel works for Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in pediatric ear, nose, and throat. One of her primary responsibilities is ‘tongue-tie’ surgery, a procedure where she repairs a condition that restricts the tongue’s movement and often interferes with an infant’s ability to nurse successfully.

Although Dr. Schnabel never planned on working exclusively with children as a nurse practitioner, “I thought maybe God brought me here so I can help other Isabellas,” she said. “Twice a week I get to carry these young babies after their procedure to their mothers, and the mothers are so thankful. It is very fulfilling.”

This story first appeared in the Fall 2021 Nursing Magazine. Photos are by Erin O. Smith, Vanderbilt University Medical Center. 

November 7-13, 2021 is National Nurse Practitioner Week, which recognizes the importance of this profession in the health care industry. The UTHSC College of Nursing offers a highly-ranked DNP program with eight concentrations and three dual concentrations. Applications are open for all these concentrations through Dec. 22. More information can be found at this link