Meet Sierra Sheets

Date: Monday, August 1, 2022

Sierra SheetsHometown: Cedar Rapids, Iowa 

Sierra Sheets’ interest in medicine began at a life-changing visit with her own medical provider when she was in high school. 

“She gave me a listening ear, not just about my physical checkup but truly listening to any problem I had going on,” Sheets says. “The first time you feel heard is a big moment." 

After high school, Sheets began working full time as a wedding and sales coordinator at a hotel, supporting herself independently. After more than a year, she enrolled at Kirkwood Community College to begin her path toward medicine, hoping to become that listening ear for others. But the transition wasn’t easy. 

“I went from working full time to failing my first exam. I told my professor, Sophie Joly, ‘I don’t know if this science pathway is for me.’ And she said, ‘It is, and we’re going to get you there.’ And she told me about SHPEP.” 

The University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine’s Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP) taught her the study skills she needed to succeed in her pre-med undergraduate coursework. SHPEP also connected her with resources for aspiring medical professionals who, like her, come from lower income backgrounds. 

“If you don’t have people in your family that are in medicine, all the barriers to get there are so daunting,” Sheets says. “SHPEP shows you that you can come from an atypical background and still make it to graduate school.” 

Sheets finished her bachelor's degree in biology at Mount Mercy while working full time and preparing to apply to medical school. The pressures of undergoing the application process while supporting herself independently were intense. 

“A $300 exam and all these testing books are so expensive. And all the applications are fees, fees, fees,” Sheets says. “If you come from a lower income background, you don’t see that $300 exam as just an exam—you see it as an entire week’s worth of groceries. When I applied to medical schools, I was putting rent on the line for the possibility that I didn’t get in.” 

The value of a listening ear 

Sheets worked full time at Area Substance Abuse Control counseling teens and young adults with substance use disorders as a patient support specialist. Having experienced the effects of addiction on those around her, she found it rewarding to offer her guidance to the patients she counseled. 

“So much of rehab isn’t just substance abuse. A lot of it is mentoring, listening, supporting them no matter who they are and what they’ve done. That’s a huge lesson I want to take with me in my career,” Sheets says. “No matter if this person is drug dependent, or if this person comes from a lower economic class, they shouldn’t be treated differently because of those factors.” 

Sheets says she wouldn’t be where she is today without the help of Amy A’Hearn, the UI Carver College of Medicine’s assistant director of admissions. 

“During SHPEP, I had a meeting where I told Amy all these problems, all my fears, and all the reasons this was just going to be an issue for me. Amy sat me down and had a rebuttal for everything,” Sheets says. “She made me believe that if I wanted this, I could do it. She helped me find a pathway that would work for me, coming from a nontraditional background.” 

She is excited to become a part of a community of new people who love medicine as much as she does. 

“You go to grab coffee with your ‘normal’ friends, and they don’t want to talk about anatomy lab,” Sheets says. “I love that I get a whole new community to share my passion for the human body with.”