“Pin” Schnabel began her career as a surgeon, and went back to school to become a nurse practitioner. Her tiny patients benefit from her experience every day.
What would make a physician go back to school to become a nurse practitioner?December 16, 2021
Filipina “Pin” Schnabel. Photo by Erin O. Smith
VUMC nurse practitioner Filipina “Pin” Schnabel loves her patients and her practice as a pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital Vanderbilt Surgery and Clinics in Murfreesboro.
What most of her patients don’t know is that Schnabel has one of the most varied educational and practice backgrounds of any Vanderbilt provider; she has doctorates in both medicine and nursing, and two master’s degrees as well.
When she fully lists her credentials after her name, it looks like this: Filipina Schnabel, MD, DNP, MPH, FNP-BC, APRN.
What would make a physician go back to school to become a nurse practitioner?
It’s an unusual story that includes a jellyfish sting, a rare immune disease, cancer treatment, two moves to the United States, the tragic loss of a newborn child, physical therapy after a back injury, and, finally, the decision to begin seeing patients again as a nurse practitioner.
When Schnabel was a teenager growing up in the Philippines, she stepped on a jellyfish. The unfortunate accident trigged a rare disease called mastocytosis, a condition where certain immune cells, called mast cells, build up under the skin, in the bones, intestines and other organs. The abnormal growth of mast cells causes a range of symptoms and can lead to risk of anaphylaxis.
This is a terrible thing to have happen at any age, but maybe especially so for a teenager. She developed severe allergies, requiring multiple trips to the hospital.
“Early on in my life I had a mindset that I wanted to be a doctor, and then after being exposed to so many doctors and nurses, who gave me comfort and saved my life, it sealed it,” Schnabel said.
She was a bright and motivated student, and she graduated medical school and completed her internship at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila.
After that, she earned her Master of Public Health and completed her residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the University of the Philippines.
She then continued her education in the U.S. at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, where she completed postgraduate training in Laryngology, Voice and Swallowing Disorders.
She moved back to the Philippines, where she practiced as an ENT surgeon, with a subspecialty in Laryngology. She also taught in the University of Santo Tomas medical school.
The second life experience that would impact her medical career occurred five or six years after she began practicing medicine. She was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was during this time that she did some soul searching.
“I was 38. This would be my first encounter with anesthesia, and with my severe allergies, I knew I could die,” Schnabel said. “I was lying in the hospital bed the day before my surgery praying, and asked God, ‘if I live, what do you want me to do?’”
After her successful cancer treatment, and following that soul searching and prayer, changes came very quickly in Schnabel’s life. She and her fiancé, Michael, married, and once again, Schnabel found herself living in the United States, this time in Tennessee.
Soon after, she and Michael had a baby. Unfortunately, Isabella Rosemary Schnabel was born with multiple congenital anomalies and died 19 days later.
It was during those hard days when Isabella was in Vanderbilt’s neonatal intensive care unit that a new career goal began to form in Schnabel’s mind.
“Isabella was born at Vanderbilt and we stayed in the NICU,” she said. “The nurses in the NICU were so amazing and compassionate. One nurse, his name was James, gave Michael his rosary. He knew we were Catholic. It was very impactful for him to give us his rosary. The experience we had in the NICU was very meaningful.
“It was then that I knew I wanted to go back into the medical field. The Vanderbilt nurses went beyond my expectations. Just the way they treated us … I don’t have the right words to describe them.”
It was a turning point in her life.
But it was during a visit with her physical therapist for a back injury that the idea of exploring nursing surfaced — specifically the idea that she might work as a nurse practitioner.
“I didn’t know what that was because we didn’t have them in the Philippines,” she said. “I looked into it and found that they function very much like a doctor. They make diagnosis, can prescribe medications and perform minor procedures. I was OK with all of that.”
“There is a different approach to treating patients. I love being in practice again. I am so happy in my role. It is so fulfilling to me.”
To say that she jumped into her new career goal would be something of an understatement.
She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from East Tennessee State in 2015, summa cum laude. In 2017 she earned her Master of Science in the Family Nurse Practitioner Program (MSN-FNP) at Belmont University, also graduating with honors.
And most recently, she received her Doctor in Nursing Practice (DNP) from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Nursing with honors in 2021.
“There was a lot to learn,” Schnabel said. “There is a different approach to treating patients. I love being in practice again. I am so happy in my role. It is so fulfilling to me.”
Now that she’s at VUMC, Schnabel spends most of her time as a pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital Vanderbilt Surgery and Clinics in Murfreesboro. She also runs clinics in Nashville and Murfreesboro for patients with tongue tie, or ankyloglossia, a condition present at birth that restricts the tongue’s range of motion and causes breastfeeding difficulties.
“As a doctor and a nurse practitioner, I understand the thinking process of both, and I do believe that as nurse practitioners we should elevate our roles, unite our voices and obtain more training. I feel it is important to highlight our abilities and how we can help fill the gaps in the health care field.
“We can bridge the lack of health care providers or augment the lack of practitioners in areas that are needed most,” she said. “Nursing is a good career path and offers great work-life balance with so many avenues for practicing.”