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From Wallflower to Leader

When Dr. Sue Sisley arrived at Northern Arizona University she was a shy young woman with dreams of earning a degree in theater. When she graduated four years later, she was a bona fide activist with degrees in chemistry and pre-medicine.

Now Sisley has joined her interests in public health, medicine, and theater into a diverse career based in Phoenix. She and her mother run a private family practice and she is a clinical faculty member at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center's Mercy Care Adult Medicine Clinic for indigent patients. Sisley, a card-carrying member of the Actor's Equity Union, also is the founder and CEO of Ensuring Tomorrow Productions, a nonprofit organization that produces touring musicals focused on health education for schools in underserved areas.

Whatever time is left in Sisley's day is spent advocating for issues in which she strongly believes—something she learned to do in her undergraduate student government days, at the urging of several faculty and administrator mentors.

"When I left NAU I had such a huge sense of empowerment—I felt that no issue was ever too daunting, no reason I couldn't take on any injustice or wrongdoing," Sisley says. "I spend at least a portion of my time lobbying the legislature, drafting bills, and trying to work on legislation to help improve the community on all matters."

Unconventional medicine

Sisley incorporates that community service mentality when she's practicing medicine, too. Her patients primarily live in areas where they don't have access to medical providers, such as various Native American populations and people living in other remote regions of the state. Because she practices telemedicine, she's able to conduct exams via video conferencing and digital technology, such as digital stethoscopes, photoscopes, and optometry scopes—all without leaving her home in Phoenix.

"I think ninety percent of my patients I've never met face-to-face," Sisley says. "It's very unconventional for now but I suspect it will be the doctor's office of the future, because it's so brilliant."

Her work—whether as a doctor, volunteer, or musical producer—hasn't gone unnoticed. Sisley was honored with the President's Point of Light Award, including letters of commendation from Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, for using the arts to promote health to at-risk youth. She has also received honors from former Arizona governors for community outreach.

The shy girl came out of her shell and attributes most of her achievements to what she learned at Northern Arizona University, the student organizations she joined, and the professors who took the time to nurture her talents, steering her toward a successful future. Dr. Sisley encourages today's undergraduates to take advantage of those same opportunities.

"Don't allow yourself to sit back and just attend class, take notes, and leave," she says. "NAU offers this incredible, unprecedented access to all these talented faculty, staff, and administrators that are open to having deeper relationships with students."