National Alumni Society Member
Name: Dr. Mary Nell Spraberry
Degree(s) and Graduation Year(s): MPH 1981, PhD 1987
Hometown: Birmingham, AL
What is your background? I grew up in Mississippi and graduated from Mississippi State College for Women with a degree in microbiology. I promised my dad I wouldn’t get married before attaining my degree, so six weeks after my graduation, I got married. My husband then volunteered to the Navy; it was a time during which they were drafting. We were based in the Memphis area, so I attended the Institute of Pathology at Tennessee. I was appointed an intern and made $3,000 a year. After a while, I decided that I wanted to work in a hospital and took a job in Houston, Mississippi where I handled all clinical activities and even helped deliver babies on occasion. That area did not have many doctors, so if a procedure was needed I would sometimes have to travel with the physician and perform nursing duties. I did everything.
You spent the bulk of your career at UAB. Tell me about your progression. I came to UAB in 1953 as a Medical Technologist and spent the last few years as Assistant Vice President for Health Affairs and Information Technologies. As far as anyone knew, I was the first female that was a Director of Computing in hospitals. This would have been in the late 60s. I recall bringing the first computer into UAB Hospital.
Can you describe a particularly fulfilling time or instance in your career? Yes, there was an E. coli outbreak in the nursery, and the hospital was stressed. They didn’t know what to do. Several babies died, and they had caught it in the hospital. I got busy. I got the serum we needed from the CDC. Of course, I pushed them—I needed everything immediately, but you must know what to ask for. Since I’m very knowledgeable about bacteria, I knew that certain things in E. coli were different. When I got the serum, I shut everything else off and got to work on testing every baby to find out what it was. I found it. I was passionate about helping find results that would lead to bringing health to that person who was really sick. I was very much involved in the diagnosis of bacterial and fungal problems and finding the vaccinations that would be useful in killing them. Of course, I taught as well and always enjoyed it. I taught all of the chemistry courses.
Do you have any advice for today’s students? My advice would be to know what it is that makes you happy. I found that I liked being helpful in healthcare issues of any kind. I was supposed to be dead by now. I had cancer twice; I had ovarian cancer and I’ve survived it for twenty years. When the doctor diagnosed me, he said, “Most of my patients will live for five years.” I told him that wasn’t satisfactory.
What books or movies you recommend? I like mystery books that have a little bit of technology in it. I like War Room and movies that have substance to them.
Tell me about your family. I have one son, his name is Brian Spraberry, and he is now CEO of the Callahan Eye Hospital.
What are some life lessons your professional life taught you? Always follow what God has directed you to do. Ask Him first.
Student Alumni Society Member
Name: Stephanie Tison
Graduation Year: MPH 2014
Major: Masters in Public Health in Epidemiology
Hometown: McKinney, Texas
Why did you choose to attend UAB? I chose UAB because of the high caliber training and collaborative environment.
What is your current state of mind? Thankful.
What are your future goals? My next major goal is to complete my doctorate in Biostatistics with a focus in clinical trials and dance my dissertation.
How has UAB impacted your life? UAB has given me greater insight into approaching the most important problems of our day and equipped me with the knowledge and experiences to be effective in making a difference. I am thankful to be a part of the UAB community that is making an impact in Birmingham and throughout the world in a variety of ways.
Who are your heroes in real life? One of my biggest heroes is my Dad. He has always encouraged me to persevere and pursue my dreams. He has been an influential example of loving God, caring for people, and working with excellence. Jonas Salk and Elisabeth Elliot are also among my heroes.
What do you do for fun? I enjoy spending time with friends, experiencing new cultures, traveling, reading and dancing.
What is the best invention of your lifetime and why? I think the smart phone has been one of the most influential inventions in my lifetime by bringing technology to the masses, especially in the developing world.
What’s the best advice you ever received? Utilize your twenties for training and be a lifelong learner.
If you had the power to solve one, and only one, problem in the world…what would it be and why? I would want to find a cure for diabetes. Diabetes care has vastly improved in this century and yet the prevalence continues to increase.