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A Medical Social Worker with an Inspiring Story

May 15, 2018

Rehabilitating and advocating for patients in critical care, while also supporting the affected family are definitely not simple tasks. Raising an 11-year-old son as a single mother doesn’t necessarily make the job any easier. For one Eau Claire medical social worker, these responsibilities are her reality.

Immediately upon entering the white house on Illinois St., a large German shepherd excitedly leaps up, barking loudly and eagerly. Behind the dog, a young boy struggles to hold her back by her collar. A woman appears from the side to aid the boy. “Sorry!” says Sheila Frank, “she’s still a puppy.”

After finally being able to place the dog in her kennel, Frank sits on the grey couch in the living room. Pictures of her and her son sit on the wall behind her, seeming to smile down as Frank chats about her job, her son and her experiences. She begins with her childhood.

Frank responds to a call from her work received on a pager ©Natalie Leonardelli 2018

Frank’s parents decided to divorce when she was only three-years-old. She recalls the sound of their voices in an argument as she tried to calm her younger sister. A couple years later, after Frank’s parents divorced, her mother married her step-father, which marked the beginning of abuse, both mentally and physically. Because her step-father played in a band and worked at a bar, he was well-liked by many people in the Eau Claire area. Frank, however, was not a fan.

“I was the one he dragged down the bedroom stairs, punching me in the stomach for stopping him from spanking my little sister,” she says.

Frank says her adult years  included several abusive relationships. She notes the worst of them lasting eight years. Because her boyfriend had been a former gang member within his family, there were many instances where she was threatened in her own home by him and his family, as well as at her pre-school teaching job.

“My boyfriend would call my work so often that my manager began to worry about my life at home,” she says.

Despite her difficult childhood and unhealthy relationships, Frank recalls the process of overcoming those struggles. In 2015, she enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire at the age of 39. Trying to get through college, as a single mother and non-traditional student, was extremely arduous. She almost gave up several times.

When thinking of influential people in her life, Frank notes Barbara Kernan, a women’s gender and sexuality professor at UW-Eau Claire and one of her greatest advocates.

Kernan fondly recollects the time Frank entered her “Women’s 100” class.

“Sheila became very brave, and she opened up about her story, which was fantastic for everyone,” Kernan says, “not just for her, but for 19-year-old freshmen to hear her story and to see it really play out.”

After completing her general education classes in the first couple years, Frank entered the UW-Eau Claire social work program. There, she received unlimited support and an internship to her current medical social work job.

Frank’s interest in social work stems not only from her interest in family dynamics, but her own experiences, as well. Helping rehabilitate patients and their families after a traumatic event is a parallel to her own life.

Frank talks about how her and her son were living in a small apartment in a neighborhood of drug busts and the sound of police sirens. She also makes a note about her old Jimmy John’s job that supported them.

Today, Frank helps patients who may have been in a similar situation. From drug overdoses to car crashes, she works to rehabilitate patients and families. Rather than immediately suggesting any sort of therapy, she makes sure to get to know the families first, as well as the patients’ living situation.

Ensuring that the families are comfortable with her first, Frank gradually obtains information to ensure a smooth rehabilitation process. This information may include factors, such as features in the patients’ homes, if they live on their own and if they have any sort of assistance.

“It’s a very stressful job, working as a medical social worker in general, and then working in critical care,” she says.

Despite the stress and intensity of her job, Frank makes certain not to bring that stress into her home environment. In her house, Frank says she leaves all of that behind and remains completely present, especially for the well-being of her son.

Frank makes sure the needs of her family are met, just as she does with her patients. Filled with various plants and picture frames and smelling of recently made dinner, the home is very welcoming, which is necessary to come back to after a long day’s work. The presence of her son and dog make the invitation even more complete.

“He’s an amazing kid and very, very trustworthy and does a great job with things when I’m not here,” Frank says.

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