SIU School of Medicine

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Team Spirit

Written by Rebecca Budde • Photography by Jason Johnson

Team Spirit


On an unusually warm December day, Karen Reynolds and her partner, Val Roberts, happily exchange the Bears game on the big screen for the sunshine and a game of basketball with the grandchildren, J’Lynn, age 10, and Leondis, age 6. As the four of them move from shooting hoops to tossing the football to hitting balls off a tee, Roberts notes, "It’s never-ending sports here – like the mini Olympics." The children are tireless: they play for over an hour, tackling, throwing, hitting, running, jumping.

Despite a recent shoulder surgery, Reynolds, a nurse educator for the second-year medical students, received the go-ahead from her doctor to shoot some hoops with the kids. She and Roberts are in the thick of the games, taking occasional short breaks to coach the boys on technique or laugh on the sidelines as the brothers tackle each other.

Reynolds and Roberts also enjoy bowling, golf, softball, basketball . . . if it’s a sport, the two either are or have been avid participants or spectators. This year, they can add watching the Super Bowl to their list. The couple’s most recent adventure took them to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, a trip Reynolds won from a contest.

Reynolds says there aren’t any team rivalries in the house – they’re Cubs and Bears fans all the way. "Wouldn’t it have been great if the Bears had made it to the Super Bowl this year?" Reynolds ponders.

However, she can’t quite say the same about team rivalries with her medical students. "She told me that I had to remove my Cardinals hat during the playoffs because her office is a Cubs-only zone," Clare Zimmerman, MSII, says.


Following in her parents’ footsteps, Reynolds joined the military after high school. Her permanent duty station was in Fairbanks, Alaska, at Fort Wainright. "Little did I know that this was a great opportunity for me," Reynolds says. She enjoyed Alaska so much that she requested to stay there for the remainder of her four-year enlistment.

Reynolds’ job while living on "the last frontier" involved repairing electronic equipment such as communication gear and chemical detectors, skills she still uses today as a self-proclaimed "techie." She was the only female in the barracks, only four women were in her entire unit, and she worked in the repair shop with "all the guys." "I’m so glad that I joined the military," she says. "I learned self-discipline and matured a lot, but four years was enough for me." Her hard work in the military earned her promotions ahead of her peers: she was head of the communications shop; a squad leader; and, at the time of her discharge, had achieved the rank of sergeant.

vReynolds’ post-military life landed her back in Springfield. Her path to nursing evolved from experiences at St. John’s Hospital as an intern during her senior year in high school. "I got to see every aspect of the hospital: autopsies, board meetings, nursing, the ER and desk work," she says. She worked as a nurse in a retirement home, for the pediatrics department at St. John’s Hospital and the Emergency Department at Memorial Medical Center.

She began working at the School in 1995 as the director of infection control in the Division of Infectious Diseases, where she served as the infection control nurse. She also was instrumental in establishing the International Travel Clinic at SIU. In 2000, she began working with medical students as a nurse educator.

Reynolds now uses her military knowledge as the School’s representative for the Joining Forces program created by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden. The program is an ongoing effort to bring attention to issues that are unique to the families serving in the military and help them overcome obstacles. "A large percentage of veterans don’t access their health care through the U.S. Veterans Affairs health care system," Reynolds says. A goal of Joining Forces is to educate medical students, residents and attending physicians about the military, the special needs of returning veterans and pervasive medical problems afflicting returning veterans, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries.


Assuming a static position but maintaining an active mind, Reynolds is a collaborative educator. Sitting in a semi-circle, she and a group of medical students collaborate on a simulated patient’s presenting symptoms. Reynolds asks a question; the students readily respond, check items off their list and question her back. Once the collaboration stops, Reynolds instructs the students on their next step, where they will practice their skills with a standardized patient in the Professional Development Lab.

To an onlooker Reynolds appears to be "all-business," but her students and colleagues know her as the perfect combination of efficiency and enthusiasm. "Karen is organized, disciplined and focused with the right balance of seriousness and sense of humor," says Cheryl Ashburn, R.N., nurse educator for the third-year medical students. Ashburn and Reynolds also attended nursing school together.

Karen Reynolds, far left, and a group of medical students discuss a patient's symptomsTrainingKaren Reynolds, far left, and a group of medical students discuss a patient's symptoms prior to an examination in the Professional Development Lab.

Reynolds’s broad experience and work with the medical students in the Professional Development Lab led her to become involved with the Association of Standardized Patient Educators, an international organization for professionals in the field of simulated and standardized patient methodology. She has held various leadership positions with the association and now serves as the immediate past president. A good teacher is always learning, and networking with these professionals has allowed Reynolds to travel to England, Scotland, Austria and Switzerland to further explore the use of simulation in medical education. This summer she will continue this exploration and networking in Paris.

"I am passionate about equality and caring for people and patients," Reynolds says. "Part of following that belief is caring for the medical students – I advocate for them so that they can be the best physicians they can be and, in turn, they can advocate for their patients. Good communication is key," she says.

As a model educator, Reynolds exemplifies the attributes she believes will make the medical students quality physicians. "The most important part of communicating with patients is listening to them and their questions," says Craig Koch, MSIII. "Karen illustrates this well with students. She listens to feedback and makes sure everyone’s questions are answered."

Her students say they appreciate her thoroughness coupled with her affability. "Having a nurse educator who you didn't feel embarrassed in front of is a major advantage as a student," says Taylor Reid, MSIII. "Karen is approachable. She allowed me to master skills that I otherwise may not have if I had been too ashamed to ask for more help and practice."

Reynolds’s motto: "If you can’t have fun while doing it, why do it?" Her jokes and sometimes unexpected sense of humor are a welcomed asset to the curriculum. She is probably best remembered by the third-year medical students for opening a session with a video with the unmistakable faces of the staff members Photoshopped onto the heads of dancing elves. "This was a stressful time for the students with a week of testing approaching, but she was able to make us laugh and forget the stress of the moment," says Koch. "Karen taught me to never take life too seriously, and if you don't have time to stop and smell the roses, and least infuse a little humor into each day." • • •