Portraits of Mormon Women: Dr. Anne Osborn Poelman
Anne Osborn Poelman is a Mormon woman and a world-renowned neuroradiologist. She joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while in medical school at Stanford University. She was impressed by the demeanor of one of her professors, and was very surprised when she found out he was Mormon. But she didn’t think much more of it until two years later, when she met another man with a similar demeanor. She must have somehow known that he was LDS, because she approached him and asked if he would tell her a little about the Church. She shares this about his response:
Well, unlike every other Mormon that I’ve ever known since then, he didn’t immediately launch into a discussion of that. He kind of took a step back, and he looked at me, and he said, “Well, why do you want to know?” And I said: “You know, that’s a really good question. I’m not really sure. I only know one other Mormon, and there’s something very different about the way you and this other person live and conduct your lives. And I want to know if it has anything to do with your church.”
Although Anne says she didn’t believe a word of what he said at the time, the impression these two men had on her (and others) had stuck with her, enough that she decided to “have a little experiment” by going to a Mormon church service. The humor with which she describes the first moments of her experience is delightful, but what I want to share here is what happened to her spirit that day.
I walked into the chapel, which was another surprise. No cross, no priest or minister in the robe. No candles. Just a very plain chapel where people were dressed in ordinary clothes. Up on the podium there were men and women, men in business suits, kids, and they basically did the whole worship service.
Well, as I sat there, I began to feel something that I’d never really felt before. It was a sense of recognition, I suppose, and it made me feel so uncomfortable that as soon as that meeting was over, I got up and left. And I went out into the parking lot, intending to get into my car and drive off and never go back again. And as I did that, a voice inside my mind said, just as clearly and as distinctly as I’m speaking now, it said, simply, “Anne, turn around and go back.”
And go back she did. That day, she attended a Sunday School class. She was invited to dinner by the class teacher. She accepted his invitation to have missionaries come to her house. First, it was church members who had a volunteer assignment (calling) as stake missionaries. But it was the simple testimony of a young, inexperienced full-time missionary who helped her really open her heart to the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
[H]e would kind of forget what it was that he was going to say at about every third of fourth sentence. He would look me straight in the eye, and all the innocence and lack of intellectual sophistication, and he would say, “Sister Osborn, I know the Gospel’s true.”
And the oddest thing happened: Somehow, all of the intellectual arguments that I’d marshaled — which were also, of course, intellectual defenses — melted away, and this young elder helped me open my heart and my soul to the influence of the spirit. And I really knew that what he was saying was true. And I felt to the very core of my being that it was something that I hadn’t discovered so much as I recognized. And it was something that I had seen, or somehow heard — somewhere some-when, someplace — these things. And they struck that resonance in my heart, and I felt that, in a way — an incredibly significant way — that I’d come home.
We’ve only shared snippets of Dr. Poelman’s conversion story. We highly recommend that you read more in the interview done for the 2006 PBS special called “The Mormons”. In this interview she also talks about her feelings about Mormon the intellect and the spirit, about women and the priesthood, and leaps of faith.
Sister Poelman has written an article about the topic of being single and Mormon (she was single for several years after her conversion at age 25):
“The Single Years: A Burden or a Gift” (also can be found in this Ensign Mormon Journal entry…scroll down to find the article “The Ecstasy of the Agony: How to Be Single and Sane at the Same Time“)
Read more from Dr. Poelman in this article about an LDS Life Sciences Symposium where she was a speaker: “No ‘believing gene,’ just faith and work, says LDS doctor, scientist
Hear more about her remarkable professional accomplishments as a neuroradiologist in the following video: