A Common Calling: Valpo Grads Working as Doctors to Provide Care to Same Underserved Area
Bonded by their passion for service, Chris Weber ’04, Ellie (Goetsch ’05) Eichman, and Lisa (Holmes ’04) Zittergruen are currently working for Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, providing care to underserved locations in Milwaukee. Originally named the Health Contact Center, the name of the clinic was eventually changed to the Sixteenth Street Clinic in 1971, given its location on the corner of South 16th Street and Greenfield Avenue.
These future health care practitioners’ paths first crossed during their membership in Valpo’s pre-med club and continued to intersect throughout their professional experiences, crossing most recently at the Sixteenth Street Clinic.
The Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers serve predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods, requiring bilingual staff members. For Chris, Ellie, and Lisa, the clinic not only sparked their philanthropic interests, but also let them utilize their backgrounds in Spanish. Lisa took multiple Spanish classes during her time at Valpo while Chris and Ellie minored in the language.<
The trio had the opportunity to put their foreign language education to the test during trips to Costa Rica and Nicaragua as undergraduates, confirming their path in service-based global health care.
Lisa, now a family medicine physician, had come into her freshman year unsure of her decision to major in pre-med, but was given validation in her career path through her time spent abroad.
“The trip (to Costa Rica and Nicaragua) was the first time that I had ever traveled outside of the country and saw other cultures firsthand like that,” Lisa said. “It was an important part of my life at Valpo.”
I really enjoy traveling in general and I am also interested in global medicine and working with people from different backgrounds and different cultures from different parts of the world in medicine, and I think that is something that has definitely stuck with me.”
Ellie, now a pediatrician, was one of the many students who accompanied Lisa on the trip to Central America. Like Lisa, as a freshman Ellie was not confident in what direction to take her educational experience. However, after working in a hospital setting during the summer before her sophomore year, the health care field started to look like the perfect fit for her interests and skill set.
“I didn’t come into Valpo planning to be pre-med at all,” Ellie said. “I made the decision the summer after my first year at Valpo; I was working back in Wisconsin at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and I really liked it there. I started thinking about pre-med and my time with Children’s helped me make my decision to go on the trip.”
As a result of her temporary immersion in the health care field, the opportunity to gain familiarity in practicing medicine abroad became more appealing.
“This was my final say that, yes, I want to go into medicine,” Ellie said. “That decision was really solidified during my first opportunity doing clinicals. It really did improve my Spanish skills and my new interest in medicine, plus there’s travel at the same time, so I think it (the trip) really combined a lot of my interests.”
Wanting to serve the global population without sacrificing her personal interests, Ellie chose to join the Sixteenth Street Clinic staff.
“I love working with the Hispanic population,” she said. “If I wasn’t set on having a family and settling in Milwaukee with my family, I could see myself practicing abroad. For me, this (the Sixteenth Street Clinic) is a little bit of compromise where I get to, in a way, practice global health right here at home.”
The trip to Central America not only served as a connection between Lisa and Ellie, but also with Chris, a pediatric physician, who traveled to Nicaragua and Costa Rica with a different Valpo medical mission team.
“During my Valpo years, I was able to travel to Central America as part of the Albert Schweitzer medical mission trip and to Papua New Guinea to spend time at a mission hospital through a Medical Missions course in Christ College,” Chris said.
Chris’s undergraduate journey was strongly impacted by the trip to Papua New Guinea and remained a strong influence during many of the crossroads that he encountered after graduation, one being his decision to join Sixteenth Street. In particular, his time spent in Dr. Christoffer Grundmann’s class, “The History of Medical Missions,” which prefaced Papua New Guinea trip, guided his future approach to the medical field.
“Working with an underserved population had always been my goal, but this class taught me the challenges of doing so,” Chris said. “These lessons both realistically tempered and bolstered my resolve to work with an underserved population and, I believe, gave me the ability to do so in an appropriate, successful, humanistic, and ethical manner.”
Gilbert Meilaender’s Biomedical Ethics class also solidified this ethical foundation, which in both Chris’ and Ellie’s opinions, was crucial to their success as physicians.
“I remember taking biomedical ethics with Dr. Meilaender and that was a fantastic class,” Ellie said. “Those issues certainly come up all of the time. It is really interesting and it is something that I can use now.”
Being able to effectively deal with such issues, Chris believes, allows for all-around better patient care.
“Valpo did a tremendous job of preparing me not only to be a physician, but to be a unique physician,” Chris said. “We are trained to listen to the patient’s story, understand their perspective of health and illness, and heal, not just prescribe. While most physicians are excellent scientists, I feel much more adept at negotiating the human aspect of medicine because I studied at Valpo.”
Lisa agrees that her Valpo experience helped broaden her professional outlook and guide the steps in her vocational journey.
“I think that they (the faculty at Valpo) really encourage you to think about what you are doing in terms of your career choices,” Lisa said. “They also encourage studying and academics in terms of vocation, allowing you to think of how it fits into the greater global community.”
In terms of the Sixteenth Street Clinic, the principles of the medical field that Chris, Ellie, and Lisa value most are reflected not only in its mission, but in its work environment as well.
“It (bilingual all-encompassing health care) is definitely a needed service here in the area,” Lisa said. “I also really appreciated the sense of collegiality I felt among the people that I interviewed with, that they really tended to work together and bounce ideas off of one another and encouraged creativity and new ideas within the clinic; I liked that.”