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Aspects of a Learner: Jenn Becker, MD

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Jennifer Becker, MD, MPH, is a member of the historic Class of 2020. She completed her medical doctorate and a master’s degree in public health and ‘virtually’ graduated in May. She also received a 2020 Excellence in Public Health Award from the U.S. Public Health Service Physician Professional Advisory Committee for projects she initiated in southern Illinois. She is now an emergency medicine resident at SIU Medicine.

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What did you enjoy about the School of Medicine and Springfield?

I don’t think I could’ve had a better group of students to go through school with, and I had a lot of tutor groups with people that I really enjoyed seeing all of the time. Third year was by far the best, getting to rotate in so many different specialties. I would absolutely do that year again. I also loved my time in Carbondale; I was able to spend a lot of time outside, exploring the Shawnee National Forest, which is such a great part of the first year of medical school.

What drew you to public health?

I started doing research with the goal of getting into medical school. I’m not sure if I was more enamored by research or the fact that it allowed me into the clinical space, but when I was accepted into SIU SOM, I had a great mentor who thought you should always take the opportunities available to you. My public health education has been hugely valuable and made me more aware of the world and what our patients deal with every day. I think it will make me a better physician. Also, the people I've been able to meet through public health make me excited about the future and how much good there is in the world.

Tell us about your public health projects.

During my first year of the MD/MPH program, I had the opportunity to be an intern at the Neighborhood Co-Op in Carbondale. It was fantastic because they enabled local growers a place to sell to the community. My job was to reach out and find as many local growers or farmers as possible and increase their ability to sell to communities in the region while also providing consumers the ability to shop for homegrown products.

Over the past year, I’ve been working on a few projects investigating rural emergency medicine. My time at SIU, particularly first year when I would visit my physician mentor in Harrisburg, exposed me to a large rural population. Also, through other public health initiatives, I learned about the disparities and the high prevalence of comorbidities or illness severity in rural Illinois. There are a lot of disparities for rural communities when it comes to access to emergency services, and I think it will be interesting to see how our rural emergency departments are able to serve their communities and if there are ways we can help to improve things and ease the disease burden.

Why emergency medicine?

In EM you get to see the whole spectrum of the patient population and the variety of medicine while working with a team each day, where every member is valued and essential to delivering the best care possible. I’ve seen the impact that an emergency physician can have on patients in a short time, by just listening and acting in an empathetic manner. While I absolutely love high acuity and procedures, I don’t think there’s anything more impressive than watching your mentor really listen to a patient and trying everything they can to improve their lives.

Has the pandemic changed your perspective about medicine and the discipline of public health?

I think COVID cemented the importance of public health and the need for a culture change on the ways we view health care in the U.S. I really hope that one thing that comes from the pandemic is a new perspective on the need to implement more primary and preventive care resources, policies and funding opportunities so that we have a better prepared society with lower comorbidities or other outcomes that could have been prevented with the right structures in place. Personally, I think I will be a stronger advocate for public health and plan to continue efforts in improving the care in communities around me.

What was it like going through graduation while the country was in lockdown?

It was disappointing not to be able to celebrate Match Day and graduation with all of my classmates, but I think the school did a great job of putting on a virtual ceremony for us, which we all will appreciate and can always look back on. It was a very strange time realizing you are done with medical school and about to enter residency while the medical field is vastly changing in ways we couldn’t, and still can’t, prepare for. I think it rejuvenated the excitement for a lot of us to start helping people directly. I’ve been very impressed by my classmates and all of the medical students who have really shown their desire to help in times of need.  

What are your plans after residency?

I’m not quite sure yet. I am curious about pursuing a fellowship, potentially in academics or research, but I think I would like to work in an academic facility and do a few shifts each month at a more rural location.

Do you have a favorite quote?

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” I always interpreted it as, if I try my best, good things will happen even if it’s not what I expect. This year was all about the unexpected.

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