Sanquinette Brownlee, a professor the Anderson University School of Nursing, is confident that everything happens for a reason. Her life has been a series of unexpected and often difficult situations.
Now, as an educator and medical professional, Brownlee sees how all broken pieces of her past fit together.
When she isn’t teaching, Brownlee serves as a family nurse practitioner and medical director for La Clinica Gratis, a free community clinic in Greenwood, South Carolina.
Brownlee said her career journey is “a long story.”
Right after graduating high school, she joined the U.S. Army. Soon after, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the midst of such hardship, the care and treatments her mother received were especially impactful to young Brownlee. The experience piqued her interest in nursing.
“I saw everything that that she went through—all the surgeries, chemotherapy, and treatments—and I became fascinated with nursing at that point,” Brownlee said.
Brownlee stayed in the Army during that time, for a total of about eight years. Still intrigued by the medical field when she left the service, she began studying at Piedmont Technical College to become a surgical technician.
Then she got married and moved to Anderson. She didn’t find a job as a surgical technician as she had planned, but found an even better job working at AnMed Health as an emergency department technician, a role in which she assisted doctors and nurses to provide emergency room care.
Brownlee continued working in the emergency room at AnMed for 24 years and became a nurse. For 14 of those years at AnMed, she worked as a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) and trained other nurses to collect forensic evidence.
One of her co-workers who taught at Anderson University at the time observed Brownlee’s instruction in her role at AnMed and prompted her to consider teaching nursing at the university level.
“From that point on, a lot of things changed in my life,” Brownlee said.
Around the same time that she became interested in teaching, her husband was diagnosed with a rare cognitive eye disease that required frequent appointments in Greenville and bilateral cornea transplants. He was unable to work, and Brownlee also had to take time off from nursing.
“It was very detrimental to the family. It changed the whole family dynamics,” she said. “But if it wasn’t for my husband’s vision problems, I know I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now. It changed everything.”
Since her husband was at home more with their daughters, Brownlee had the opportunity to go back to school to become a nurse practitioner.
“I let students know that story because there are things that happen in life that we can’t control, but they’re actually blessings in disguise,” Brownlee said.
With her husband’s support, Brownlee went to Tri-County Technical College, then to the University of South Carolina-Upstate and, finally, to Walden University. She graduated from Walden as a nurse practitioner a year and a half ago.
Her clinical rotations with Walden University were at La Clinica Gratis. Brownlee said that she quickly fell in love with the clinic.
“I knew from that point on, when I did my rotations with that clinic, that was something I wanted to do when I graduated,” she said.
That’s exactly what she did. When Brownlee graduated from Walden, she began her job as a nurse practitioner at La Clinica Gratis. A few months later, Brownlee accepted the position of medical director of Community Initiatives, the non-profit organization that founded and manages the clinic.
“Community Initiatives, Inc. began as a grassroots effort to provide social and medical services to new residents who did not speak English and had recently relocated to Greenwood County,” said Teresa Goodman, Executive Director of Community Initiatives. “Our free medical clinic was the first effort to do this. Community Initiatives, Inc. is now a thriving non-profit organization specializing in health and prevention.”
Teri Rodriguez, the clinic manager, said that the clinic offers free medical programs and services for those who are uninsured or underinsured. Though the clinic serves everyone, most patients are Hispanic or Latino. Translators assist the nurses to make sure Spanish-speaking patients receive the medical help they need.
Brownlee said that the clinic offers much more than just a quick fix for ailments; it provides patients with a medical home.
“The impact Community Initiatives, Inc. make in our community is often immeasurable as we save lives and that we cannot put a price tag on,” Goodman said.
Brownlee’s passion for ensuring her community has quality medical care extends beyond Greenwood.
When people in Brownlee’s church began approaching her with health concerns, she recognized a need within her own church. After speaking with her pastor, Brownlee set up a room at her church to measure the blood pressure of members.
Under Brownlee’s leadership and vision, the small room at Flat Rock AME Church in Abbeville has expanded to a fully functioning satellite campus of La Clinica Gratis. The satellite clinic is open to the whole community for both scheduled visits and walk-in visits.
“I feel like this is one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever had as a medical provider in that the patients are so appreciative of everything we do for them,” Brownlee said. “I wish there was a Community Initiatives in every community.”
Brownlee’s dedication to her work and love for her patients is evident.
“The contribution Professor Brownlee makes is one that is a mix of heartfelt care & concern along with the knowledge of medical care and services; more importantly it is one we cannot do without,” Goodman said. “She has been so kind to share her expertise with us at La Clinica Gratis/The Free Clinic and we are better for it.”
“Brownlee has been a blessing to our clinic. She’s amazing,” Rodriguez said. “She treats our patients with respect and takes time to listen to them. Words can’t describe how good she is.”
Anderson University students often serve at La Clinica Gratis with Brownlee. Last year, Brownlee arranged for medical Spanish students to visit the clinic. This spring, the Anderson University School of Nursing will begin a partnership with La Clinica Gratis.
Brownlee said that her students’ involvement allows them an opportunity to uphold the values they learn at Anderson University in the workplace.
“We provide culturally and nurturing care in a Christian-like environment. We treat everyone regardless of income, regardless of anything, like we want to be treated—in a Christian-like manner,” Brownlee said.