“Building a Strong Body, Mind, and Soul,” with Glenda Shepard
SPU doctoral student Glenda Shepard has spent decades caring for patients as both a labor and delivery nurse and as a hospice/palliative care nurse practitioner. After overcoming childhood obesity, she wanted to bring holistic well-being to her family and to all of her patients. Now a competitive bodybuilder, wellness coach, and proud mother of two grown daughters, Glenda has dedicated her career and life to improving the health of others. Listen to her heartfelt and inspirational story on this episode of the SPU Voices Podcast.
Amanda Stubbert: Today we sat down with Glenda Shepard. She received her master’s in health administration from Central Michigan in 2001, and then a post-master’s as a nurse practitioner in 2011 from SPU. She’s currently working toward a doctorate in nursing practice at SPU. As a nurse practitioner, Glenda has spent decades caring for patients in both labor and delivery and hospice palliative care. After fighting childhood obesity, she wanted to bring wellness to her family and all of her patients. Now a competitive bodybuilder, a wellness coach, and a proud mother of two grown daughters, Glenda has dedicated her career and life to improving the health and wellness of others. Glenda, thank you so much for joining us today.
Glenda Shepard: Thank you, Amanda. Great to be here.
Amanda: Now, I think that sometimes when you meet someone, your very first impression, you can have some guesses about who they are or what they might do for a living. And can I just say the first day I met you, you are just such a joyful person. So much joy just comes off you, I was like, “Of course she is a nurse. This is the person everyone wants as their nurse.” So I’m just so glad that you’re a part of the SPU community and that you’re telling your story with us today.
Glenda: Oh, thank you. It is truly a blessing to be able to tell my story. And I’m just humbled and grateful that God has opened this opportunity. And I pray that it will be a blessing to others.
Amanda: Well, I have no doubt that it will. So let’s jump in here. Why nursing? What got you started down the road to nursing in the first place?
Glenda: Why nursing? You know, when I was a young girl, I remember having a conversation with my mom and I told her, I said, “I am going to grow up and become a nurse. I want to help take care of people. And I need to also earn an income.” And she chuckled. And that just set the pace for that vision. When I graduated from high school, I went right into nursing school. I started with a two-year degree, knowing that I would go back and continue, but I thought, “Okay, let’s just do a two-year degree so I can get out and start working and then I’ll continue on.” And that was about 1982 when I started that. And to this day, I’m still in school. It has not stopped. I didn’t foresee that, but it is what it is. And I’m so grateful and thankful that I have such a long history in nursing and also in just continuing my education.
“When I was a young girl, I remember having a conversation with my mom and I told her, I said, ‘I am going to grow up and become a nurse. I want to help take care of people.'”
Amanda: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So when we first talked about your journey, you were telling me about how you first found yourself in nursing a little bit disillusioned about bringing health and wellness to the whole person.
Glenda: Yes. Going through nursing school, it was amazing. I learned a lot. I was very appreciative of the education that I acquired, but it did not get me everything I was hoping that I would get. I have to back up to say that when I was a young girl, I was grossly overweight. Growing up in the South, you can only imagine the good cooking that my mom would provide. And it wasn’t anything related to being healthy, it was just the taste of good food enriched with the bad fats.
Amanda: Mm-hmm (affirmative), lots of Crisco. Lots of Crisco.
Glenda: Lots of Crisco. Absolutely. And I grew up not only eating the bad food, but overeating. I was an overeater. And I was encouraged to clean your plate. I can still remember that. You don’t leave anything on your plate.
Amanda: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Glenda: Even if it’s plate number two, you clean your plate. And so, as a result of the bad food and the overeating, I was overweight. And I wasn’t happy. I can remember in the 8th grade I was struggling with my self-identity, my self-esteem. I was not in a happy place. And I know God was protecting me because I didn’t know how to protect myself. And I had thoughts of just not continuing to live. I mean, I really was depressed and struggling. Long story short, I started different types of diets and I lost the weight, but my skin tone was horrible.
When you lose weight too rapidly, it decreases your muscle tone. And so, I went through high school with a decrease in the body weight, but my body image was not good. It was soft and flabby. I still didn’t have a good self-esteem about myself. So, in going through nursing school, my hope was to gain the knowledge to understand how to feed my body without becoming overweight, how to improve my muscle tone, and how to live healthy. And nursing school didn’t give me all of those answers. I enjoyed the education of nursing itself, but it didn’t give me all the things I was hoping to get.
Amanda: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Glenda: So after graduating from nursing school, I went into a med-surg nursing. I can remember the first, I would say three months, I became very depressed. I would cry going to work. I would cry going home. I wasn’t happy with the type of nursing I was doing. And I reached out to one of my instructors and shared this with her. I said, “I think I’ve made a horrible mistake. I’m not liking this. Nursing is not for me.” And she said, “Glenda, nursing is for you. You just need to specialize. You need to find your niche in nursing.”
Amanda: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Glenda: And so, I started to apply for … She said, “Go back and remember what was your favorite part in clinical?” And I remembered it was labor and delivery because it was such a happy time. And for the most part, the patient, the woman giving birth, wasn’t sick and neither was the baby, so 98% of the cases were happy cases. So I applied for a labor and delivery position, and no one would open the door because I had no experience. And so, I was just devastated. I had spent these years to become a nurse and now I’m not happy, plus it didn’t give me everything I was looking for. So I was really just in a state of depression. Prayed, prayed, prayed, prayed.
And soon, I did get a labor and delivery job. It was a night shift. I was OK with that. So that answered that prayer. And then later on, I started to go to a local gym, and I ran into a personal trainer and hired him. He changed my life in terms of how to feed my body and how to exercise and weight lift to get the muscle tone that I was craving. I worked with him for well over a year, and I realized, “This is really what I want to do.” And so for years, decades, I practiced nursing and also I became a personal trainer myself. I was so in love with it.
“For years, decades, I practiced nursing and also I became a personal trainer myself. I was so in love with it.”
I’m a group exercise instructor, so I did the fitness and nursing separately. And it was just like two different worlds. I would go and do my nursing shift and then go to the gym and spend hours there. And it was just … I was in a happy state and I was thriving, and life was really, really good. For me personally, my body toned up. I was eating five to six meals a day and not gaining weight.
Glenda: That was incredible. I thought, “Holy smoly. This is how we do it.”
Amanda: And I guess you’re eating very different foods, right?
Amanda: You’re not eating five meals a day with Crisco?
Glenda: Right. Right, Crisco was out the window. It was the healthy fats I was learning to incorporate in my diet, the healthy lean meats, the healthy vegetables, limiting the junky stuff. You know, of course you still had some of that, but it was definitely more of a regimen that I had to train myself to adapt to. So I had to completely change my way of eating. And so, yes, that was my awakening to nursing and also to fitness.
Amanda: I can just hear it even in your voice as you talk about it. I can imagine you as you get more and more in control of your own life and your own body that that joy and that strength, and then you’re just bringing that right back into the labor and delivery room with you, which you need. I personally have been a doula for eight different births of my friends and family members.
Amanda: And there’s nothing like it. I would do it every day of my life if I had gone a different way. But it’s exhausting, right?
Amanda: I mean, it’s exhausting. You have to be on and ready for hours upon hours. And so, I can just hear it in your voice, you, getting that joy and that strength and bringing it back to the hospital with you. Do you have a favorite labor and delivery story?
Glenda: Oh, my goodness. I have so many.
Amanda: You probably have many. Yeah.
Glenda: I have so many, but I have this one very favorite that I will never, ever, ever forget. It was a young couple. He was a young pastor. And they had been married for a few years. They came into the unit and we met. They came in for just a tour, and I gave them the honor of that. And we clicked, we connected. We talked about God. We talked about labor and delivery. We talked about their first baby coming. And we just clicked. And they said to me, “When we come back to deliver, we want you to be our labor and delivery nurse.” And I said, “Yes. Great. If I’m here, absolutely.”
So a few months from that, they came in. They had come over after she had gone to her OB visit because she had not felt the baby move. And so, we had to do a non-stress test. I remember taking them into the room and we were all so happy. And I put the monitor on and I started to perform the non-stress test. And I could not find the baby’s heart rate. I kept searching and searching. And I still had a good, happy look on my face, and soon, that look changed. And they looked at me and they knew something was wrong. And so, I said, “Just a moment.” I said, “Let me go and get a colleague to come in.” Because that’s what we do. Sometimes it could just be me not finding the right spot.
Amanda: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Glenda: So I had my colleague come in to search, as well. And she couldn’t find the heart rate. That was devastating. The baby had passed, and they lost their first child. She had to go through being induced, in giving birth to a stillborn. And I was part of all of that. It was not our vision. It was not what we had anticipated that I would be part of, or for them, as well. And I can remember my feelings went out the window. I left work and I had to take a few days off. I had to talk to God. I had to put that in a place. I’m like, “Lord, help me here. I’m struggling.” You know?
Amanda: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Glenda: “This is a young pastor. He’s doing your work. This is their first baby. Why? Why? Why?” And so, that was really devastating for me. And my nurse manager called me in her office and she says, “We know you’re struggling. We can see that. The joy in you has gone.” So she had some words for me which were really, really uplifting. And I’ll fast forward. About a year later, that same couple came back in. She was pregnant again. And what we had anticipated the first time happened on the second time: I was there to help them give birth to their baby. It was such a miraculous connection for all three of us, because we know God was involved. We know that he had put me there, and he had placed them there for me. And then he gave them their second baby. It was just … the words can’t describe the feeling that I got from that and to share it with them. I will never forget them. That was such a special time.
“I was there to help them give birth to their baby. It was such a miraculous connection for all three of us, because we know God was involved.”
Amanda: Well, and I can guarantee they will never forget you either. Yeah, I’m sure nurse Glenda has a special place in their hearts. So this is a glorious time of your life. You found bodybuilding. You’re doing labor and delivery.
Amanda: And then you go back to school and there’s some shifts going on. You want to take us through that next phase?
Glenda: So going back to school, I always had the desire to have a doctorate. Back then, the DNP, the doctor of nursing practice, was not available. So after I had gone back for my post-master’s, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do for my doctorate. Well, I was looking at nutrition, there was functional medicine, it was just a whole lot of things I was looking at doing. And for whatever reason, God put it in my heart to pursue the DNP and to go back to SPU. I have to just say that when I had my first encounter with SPU, it was just life-changing. And I just fell in love with SPU, the campus, the professors. It was just so enriching to not just my intellectual capacity, but my spiritual, as well. So going back was, I said, “OK, God. Green light. No issue. I will do that.” But the timing, I had to wait for the timing. And I have to also share this.
When I was going through my post-master’s, I was married. My beloved husband, we were 21 years into a beautiful marriage, two daughters. We had moved from Texas to Washington state in 1998, the same year that I gave birth to my second and last daughter. It was just a wonderful time to be in a new environment, for the girls to be thriving. He was a school administrator so his career was thriving. I was back in school for my post-master’s and everything was just feeling great. And in the end of 2009, early 2010, he was diagnosed with a rare cancer osteosarcoma in the jawbone. Just out of the blue sky, it just hit us like Bam! And I really did not think much of it in terms of ‘This is going to be life-threatening.’ I just had the faith and the hope that he was going to get over that. And that didn’t happen.
In 2011, he started to go through the treatments. In any cancer treatment, there are side effects. And I was torn. Do I continue to with my post-master’s, or do I quit school so I can be a caregiver and take care of my spouse? And he would not have that. He said, “No, you’re too close to quit. I will be OK.” And that was really what I needed to hear from him, to keep me in school and to help me to finish that post-master’s. Because I was so close to getting it, but I would have quit in a heartbeat if I needed to be there with my husband.
Amanda: Yeah, of course.
Glenda: So, finished that in 2011. And in 2013, he passed away from the cancer. So I had to go through that season. And that has been the toughest season in my entire life. So I say that to say that going back to school was just put on hold because of what I had to handle. And then, my two daughters, having to make sure that they were in a healthy place. They both were grieving hard, especially my oldest daughter. She was super close to her dad. She was in college at the time when he passed. My youngest daughter was still in high school.
So after my youngest daughter finished high school and got into Western Washington University, and it was me, I prayed on it. And that’s when God gave me the green light for yes, the DNP and SPU. My acceptance was really easy. And so I just knew that it was God’s timing. And going back to school, this is the first time that I can say going back to school feels as though I want to be there. I don’t have to be there. It’s because I have chosen to do this. And it just feels so great. I still have the same vibes that I had the first time when I went through SPU with my post-master’s. My professors are just such godly people. They just infuse God into their classroom. And that’s what I expect and that’s what I’m getting from SPU.
“My professors are just such godly people. They just infuse God into their classroom.”
Amanda: That’s so awesome. I want to back up a little bit because I want to ask you some questions about it. So, between your post-master’s in 2011 and now, you were not working in labor and delivery. You went a new direction. And I want to talk about what you’ve been doing during that time with your nursing career, and then how that intersects with your time of grief and recovery. So tell us about what you’ve been doing the last 10 years.
Glenda: Yes. When I was at SPU for my post-master’s, my entire mindset was to become a women’s health practitioner. Coming from labor and delivery, it was a fit. I just felt comfortable and I wanted to work with the whole person. And it just made me feel, to work with a woman, she would change her household, to help her to become holistically healthy and well. And so, the entire two and a half years I was working, I was at SPU for my post-master’s, everyone that I talked to, I told them, “Yes, women’s health. That’s all I want to do.” That’s it, period. No questions asked. So, I remember when I submitted my CV … Oh, I have to say that I was working for CHI Franciscan Health. And so, I submitted my CV to the provider recruiter. And in the objective, I stated seeking women’s health position.
Amanda: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Glenda: So I was driving home from work one day, and I got a phone call. This was when we could still take a phone call and it was OK to talk and drive. I had to make sure I premise that. And so, she introduced herself, told me she had looked at my CV and she wanted to talk to me about a position. And I was so excited. I’m like, “Yes, yes, yes.” And so she started to talk about hospice palliative care, palliative hospice. And I looked at the phone and kind of said to myself, “Is she looking at my CV?” And I wanted to ask, “Excuse me, but my CV, I’m looking for women’s health position.” And I promise you, I heard the Holy spirit say, “Silence.” And I could not open my mouth to say anything. I just had to listen to her talk about this position that I was telling myself, “I am not interested in this.”
However, I couldn’t say that. The only thing I could say was, “Let me think about it. And I will get back in contact with you.” So I went home, my husband was there and I shared it with him, told him everything that I’m saying to you. And he was so, so excited. He says, “Yes, yes, yes. This is going to be your first position.” And I said, “No, you don’t understand. This is not what I want. This is totally opposite. I want a women’s health position.” And he said, “Just pray on it.” And so I said to God, “OK, Lord, you’re bringing this to me. And I’ve lived long enough to know when you bring me an opportunity even though I might not see it, it’s meant to be a blessing. So I will go through the interviews, but if you close a door, I will be OK with that.”
Amanda: Please close it. Please close it.
Glenda: Please close it. Please. So I started to go through a series of interviews, four or five interviews. And no door was closing.
Glenda: And I remember I sat down with a medical director, Dr. Mimi Patterson. She had that same CV that set the same objective: women’s health position. And she said to me, “I just have to ask: It says here you’re seeking a women’s health position. Help me to understand.” And I shared it with her. I was very honest. I said, “My background is labor and delivery. I want to work with the whole person. I want to have a holistic approach to care. And for me, that meant a women’s health position.” And she looked at me dead in my eyes and she said, “I want to hire you.” And I said to myself, “You do?” She and I chuckle about that to this day because she can still remember that, us sitting down and she can still remember how we talked about it. It was just … the Lord. I thought, “God, what are you doing? This is not what I want.”
And so, fast forward, it’s been 10 years that I have been in palliative and hospice. I have done nothing else but palliative and hospice. And it fits me to the tee. It is exactly, exactly, what God has created me to do. There is nothing that I can see myself doing other than my wellness that I love to do. But to provide end-of-life care is what I do and it’s what I will continue to do.
“She looked at me dead in my eyes and she said, ‘I want to hire you.'”
I got an email today from a husband thanking me. He had struggled taking care of his wife at home. She had dementia. And that can be very challenging. So he brought her to the hospital, to St. Clare Hospital, where I currently work. And he was just beyond himself. He had tried and tried. He wanted to keep her at home, but her care had gotten too much. He just could not do it. He was emotionally, physically, exhausted, and he needed help.
And so, long story short, I talked to him. I validated his love and devotion to his wife. I explained to him how the end-of-life … when the end-of-life starts to become more challenging, you need help. You cannot do it alone. So I recommended the Franciscan Hospice House which he was in agreement with. So she was able to go there for her end-of-life care. And it allowed him to go visit and just be the husband, no longer taking the role as the caregiver, but just to spend her last days as her husband. And it just fulfilled him. And he sent me this lovely email thanking me for helping him. It brought tears to me. This is what I do. This is why I do what I do. And I’m just so thankful that God opened that door and didn’t close it because he knew. He knew. He knew he created me for this line of work.
Amanda: Yeah. I think it could be easy to look at labor and delivery, hospice palliative, beginning of life, end-of-life, and think of those as very opposite, very different things. But having, like I said, a little bit of each of those in my own life, just a little touches, not your level, but enough to realize it’s very similar, and that it’s a whole family experience.
Amanda: You’re not just dealing with one patient, you’re dealing with a family. And it’s part of the care.
Glenda: It’s part.
Amanda: You have to care for the whole family. And obviously, that is who God has created you to be. So we’re just blessed to have people like you in those positions. And you’re still doing the bodybuilding, right?
Amanda: You’re still getting your strength from that and bringing it to work with you.
Amanda: Don’t you even have a big competition coming up?
Glenda: I do. Last year, even before COVID, I had said, “No, I wasn’t going to try to do a competition.” I was just going to continue to focus on school and maintain my 4.0. That was more important. But this year I said, “Well, let’s just see how things will go.” So I’ve selected June 19, which is a local competition. It’s going OK. I have plenty of time to get ready. The challenging part about prepping for a competition is most definitely the diet. The training aspect is not so … It doesn’t change as much because as a competitive body builder, training is training. You’re going to continue to do that. But it’s the diet, it’s changing your diet so your body can release the body fat and preserve as much muscle as possible. And in doing so, it’s very low carb.
And so, without the carbs, you don’t have that glycogen upbuild to keep your brain fueled. And so, sometimes you can have a little bit of a low. And because of school, this is challenging. I’ll have to justify more after I go through my first competition and still trying to keep my senses with school. Right now, I’m doing great, but as it becomes closer to the actual competition, the low, low, low carbs is really going to be challenging. But I’m up for it. So, yes.
And another thing. I turned 60 in August. And for some odd reason, God gave me that as an opportunity to just pull everything about me and become my best self. What that means is just to really, really focus on how I can, at the age of 60, focus more on my ability to connect and to inspire and to encourage people, that no matter what age or no matter what level you are, you can still improve. It takes intention, and it takes setting your goal and just staying focused. So, at the age of 60, I’m going to showcase this. And so, we can get back, Amanda, and we can talk more about it. It’s going to be pretty exciting.
“I turned 60 in August. And for some odd reason, God gave me that as an opportunity to just pull everything about me and become my best self.”
Amanda: Yeah. I am just inspired. I mean, the joy is number one, because that’s what makes you want to look deeper. But then when you look at your schedule of training every morning, working a daunting nursing shift four days a week, in school for your doctorate the fifth day of the weekday, and then on the weekends studying and being a mom and taking care of yourself and working out your nutrition, I mean, that to me is like a 17-year-old Olympic athlete. And yet, you’re this 60-year-old nurse that is just killing it. I mean, I don’t know what else to say. Every day I’d complain, “Oh, I’m kind of tired every day at 3:00.” And then I think of you and I think, “I’m not going to complain.” I’m not going to complain.
Glenda: Oh, see: It’s working already. Yay!
Amanda: So when the doctorate’s finished, when you’ve won a national bodybuilding championship and you’re 60, what’s next? What’s next for you?
Glenda: You know, the big picture that God has given me is a global health and wellness ministry, which will incorporate my passion for holistic wellness, meaning how do we prevent chronic illnesses that we currently deal with? I see it at the end of life. And then also to incorporate the end-of-life education. And it’s going to involve just more than just me, of course. But that’s the big picture. And to continue to encourage and to inspire and to educate on keeping our temples as vibrant and as healthy as we possibly can. And it takes intention. I believe food is medicine and medicine is food. So, learning how to feed our temple is so crucial. And there’s so much man-made stuff nowadays that is just perplexing to so many people. What’s healthy? What’s not healthy? What should I eat? What should I not eat? And so, that is where I’m going. I am going to become just an educator on holistic wellness and also incorporating end-of-life.
Glenda: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Amanda: Amazing. And I know, I’m sure, you have 30 to 40 years left of this journey, and we are going to follow you every step of the way.
Glenda: Thank you.
Amanda: So, I’m going to end with the last question we like to ask everybody on the show.
Amanda: But I’m going to tweak it just a little bit differently for you. So the question we ask everyone is if everyone in Seattle could do one thing differently when they wake up tomorrow that would make the world a better place, what would you have us do? But I’m going to tweak it just a little bit because for so many folks like myself who listened to you and look at your life and say, “How daunting it would be to go from where I am now to the health and wellness that you’re walking out?” So I’m going to say, what’s the one thing we could do tomorrow, one thing that could put us on that road to look a little bit more like you?
Glenda: What is the one thing that is … You’re talking to someone who has so much to say about that. I think the one thing would be to wake up and to be grateful that you did wake up, and to set your intention for that day to maximize that day. Because this is what I say to people, every day is a gift. Every single day is a gift. And it’s not, this is another day, it’s a new day. A new day that we have not seen before, and it has new blessings and opportunities for us to embrace and appreciate. And so, to set the intention that we’re not going to waste our new day. We are going to fulfill it. We’re going to maximize every opportunity to be a blessing and to allow God’s spirit to flow in and through and out of us, to touch those that are around us. That is what I would say.
Amanda: Preach it, Glenda. You can come back on our show any time.
Glenda: Oh, thank you.
Amanda: Thank you so much for joining us today. Let me end with our prayer of blessing over you.
Amanda: May the Lord bless you and all you put your hands to. May the Lord be gracious to you and all who hear your story. May he bring unity to our community and peace to us all. Thank you so much.
Glenda: Thank you, Amanda.