From candy striper to office manager, Vernita Pearsall always knew that healthcare was her calling. The magic act and the ukulele came later.
From the earliest days Vernita Pearsall can remember, growing up in Gary, Indiana, she has always been curious, and she has always loved to learn. When she was still in elementary school, she would often read her sister’s high school textbooks. One day, she started reading a high school medical book, and she thought, “Wow, that’s awesome. I want to do this for a living.”
Pearsall grew up in the same strict church community in Gary that included the Jackson family. (As little girls, she and Janet Jackson used to play together.) “I did not go on dates,” she says. “I did not wear makeup or jewelry. I went to school, went to church, and came home.”
However, she was allowed to participate in extracurricular activities, and she made the most of this outlet for her zest for life and passion for learning. She played in the band, joined the math club and computer club, and competed in track. “I was the smallest thing in the shot put,” she says. And as soon as she was old enough, she volunteered at local Mercy Hospital as a candy striper.
To get to the hospital, “I would catch two buses in Gary, by myself,” she says. “Back then, it was fine.” She volunteered in the evenings, helping out the patients however she could. “I would do everything,” she says. “The patients would call, and I was running down the hall. What do you need? Water? Ice chips?” The nurses all loved her.
“I loved helping people,” she says. “I knew that was my niche in society. Some people take drugs to get high. Helping people, for me, was my high. It gave me this burst of energy.”
After high school, Pearsall started college at Indiana University Northwest. She also married her first husband and had two children. With her bachelor’s of science in nursing complete and her second child growing fast, she went back to school in Chicago to learn ultrasound.
“I would take my youngest son with me to school,” she says. “We would scan his brain, his little head. I tell him, ‘That’s why you’re so smart. We scanned your brain all the time.”
She completed her certification in ultrasound, then accepted a position as an ultrasound technician at a fertility clinic. “It was supposed to be part-time,” she says, “but I was always there wanting to do extra. I wanted to learn everything I could.”
She advanced quickly and was soon managing a fertility center in a network of such centers in Indiana and Illinois.
Several years later, Pearsall was living in Charlotte, North Carolina, finishing up a bachelor’s degree so she could get to work on her M.B.A. She was considering moving back to Chicago when a fertility clinic in Atlanta reached out to her and asked her to come work for them.
She had since remarried. Her husband, a retired firefighter and professional magician from Philadelphia, told her that he’d had enough snow in his life, and Atlanta sounded good to him. So Pearsall accepted the position, and they moved to Atlanta.
Pearsall completed her M.B.A. while managing the fertility clinic. Then, after a merger and acquisition, her clinic was closed. She went looking and found out that United Physician Group had an opening for an office manager. Impressed with her resume, leadership experience, and charismatic personality, the practice quickly hired her.
She was at first slightly nervous about leaving her specialty in fertility to work in family practice. But she found the people of United Physician Group welcoming and supportive, and, she says, “It’s all health and helping people, so I’m fine.”
It was also the first time she took a position that was exclusively administrative. Her previous positions had all been a hybrid of clinical and administrative responsibilities.
“It’s new because I’m so accustomed to doing both,” she says, “but it’s refreshing. After working so hard on my master’s degree [in business], I had to let that era of my life go and concentrate on the administrative side. I’m OK now. It’s nice, because I do know the other side. When the clinical team talks to me about something they’re struggling with, I understand where they’re coming from. That’s refreshing for them. I can talk with them at their level.”
And she still prioritizes that human connection with the practices’ patients. “I still connect with patients when they call me, talk with them in the hallway, or joke with them at the front desk. I want them to feel as if they’re home. I try to make them laugh or smile, bring down that stress a little so that they feel OK.”
That desire to connect with patients on a human level — to treat the whole person, not only their medical needs — is something Pearsall finds throughout the United Physician Group community. It aligns with her own lifelong desire to help people however she can.
“I’ve worked with quite a few doctors, and seen quite a few myself,” she says. “Dr. Armstrong and Dr. Sherrod are top notch. I work with them very closely, and I love it. I listen to them with their patients, on their phone calls in the hallways, in the rooms with their patients. They are very, very thorough. They do not rush their patients. They take their time. They listen, and they actually answer all your questions. They actually care.”
As the office manager, Pearsall has the Ring security camera app on her phone, linked to the office cameras. “I’ll get a notification at 8:00 at night, and there’s Dr. Armstrong, still walking in the hall. I’ll text her, ‘Go home.’ And she’ll say, ‘I’ve just got a few more notes to do.’ She wants to finish.”
That same spirit drives everyone at United Physician Group Family Medicine of Decatur. “We’re all doing our job, the best we can,” says Pearsall. “This is what you do. You help people.” With that dedication and expertise, plus a little dash of magic, they give every patient the very best in personalized care.
To make an appointment with Dr. Armstrong or Dr. Sherrod at United Physician Group Family Medicine of Decatur, or with any of our family medicine or pain management doctors, contact your neighborhood United Physician Group practice today.