Learning Other Cultures Helped Shape Goals

This essay was written for the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine's Integrated Medical School and Family Medicine Residency Program (TIP), a transitional fourth year medical school experience that continues into residency.

by Emily Schipper

It sounds crazy to some to don Dutch costumes and scrub the streets, but that was just part of my childhood, that and dancing in wooden shoes once I was old enough. I grew up in Holland, MI and went to Calvin College for my undergraduate degree, where I received a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish. During my sophomore year, I lived with a host family in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, where I learned the Spanish language and studied Mayan culture. It is my plan to pursue family medicine and after residency, practice in west Michigan. My husband currently works in Zeeland and both our families are in the area. Not only do we want to remain in west Michigan for family’s sake, but also for learning from and serving the Hispanic community. In my clerkships I have worked with interpreters both over the phone and in person. While many are very good at their work, often something in the patient-physician relationship is lost. It is my hope that I will be able to communicate with my Spanish-speaking patients in their language. I recently visited La Clinica Santa Maria in the Burton Heights neighborhood of Grand Rapids. I was inspired by the care they provide and the services offered to all their patients.

Theologian Frederick Buechner wrote, “Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.” For me, I believe that’s providing primary patient centered care here in Michigan. I would be honored to serve at La Clinica or in a similar setting that provides holistic care to all patients regardless of their citizenship or the insurance they hold. I am passionate about the particular health needs and health disparities surrounding the Hispanic community.

In my first two years of medical school, I was a mentor for FitKids 360, a free program for overweight youth and their families that teaches healthy living. I have been blessed to work with many families in the program, all of whom were Spanish speaking. It was a privilege for me to practice the language and it allowed the mothers who didn’t feel comfortable in English to still engage in the program. One morning while walking to school, I entered Butterworth Hospital. As I walked in, the mother of the “fit kid” I was working with at the time walked out. We recognized each other and both stopped to say hello. Her husband had suffered a stroke in the night and she was just leaving the hospital to ready her 5 children for school.

I am amazed by burdens people carry, the joy that still fills their lives and the way in which they journey on.  To join in a part of people’s lives and to be trusted with intimate parts of those lives is a gift from patients to their physicians. That cold morning, a mother shared her worries and grief with me. I hope that my prayer and hug offered some support.

As a family physician, patients trust you with their lives. They allow you intimate information about their family histories, their health, their bodies. You, in return, are expected to provide them with evidence-based patient centered care laced with compassion. And as a family physician, you are privileged to provide continuity of care. You provided care for your patients before the stroke or the cancer or the child, and you will provide care for them after. This is why family medicine appeals to me and why I would like to be a part of the Integrated Medical School and Family Medicine Residency Program.

I plan to pursue family medicine and hope to practice in west Michigan. If I were able to be a resident in Grand Rapids, I could also continue working with FitKids 360 and continue to connect with our Hispanic community. The community outreach/public health focused area of excellence would allow me to continue working with the communities for whom I have a passion. I would be honored and excited to be a part of the Family Medicine Residency Program. 


(July 2015)