The top award winner of the CIA Medical 2017 Scholarship is Naomi Ecanow, a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the GPPA (Guaranteed Professional Program Admissions) Medicine program. Now in her junior year, her program consists of 3-4 years of undergraduate studies followed by 4 years at the University of Illinois Medical School at Chicago.
Naomi’s winning essay is an inspirational account of how the care she received from her pediatrician, Dr. Susan Weisberg, inspired her to pursue a medical career. “Dr. Sue” was a beloved practitioner in her Chicago community and a doctor who made a positive impact on both her young patients and their families.
In telling her story, Naomi hopes to share the profound impact that dedicated healthcare professionals make on the lives of others – a sentiment that we at CIA Medical strongly believe in. Dr. Sue is an outstanding example of humanity, a doctor at the top of her game, and a model of what great healthcare should be. We are proud to present Naomi’s winning essay on Dr. Susan Weisberg.
Dr. Susan Weisberg
An essay by Naomi Ecanow
Growing up I thought every doctor greeted patients by asking, “How’s my angel today?” This is how my pediatrician, Dr. Susan Weisberg, or “Dr. Sue” as her patients knew her, greeted me for as long as I could remember. I knew her first by her kind voice and caring demeanor; her brilliance as a clinician became apparent to me as my awareness evolved with age. My parents described meeting her for the first time when I was a few weeks old. They were looking for a new pediatrician after the prior one had spent less than five minutes with me at my 10-day check-up. After introducing herself, Dr. Sue gently took me from my mother’s arms and held me for over an hour while she examined me and spent time getting to know our family. It was obvious to my parents that she loved her profession as well as her patients. In the years that followed, I came to know her well through visits to her office and her second office in her home, a solution which allowed her to see patients anytime day or night. The small room off of her family kitchen contained a baby scale and a small examination bench, and the room was decorated with colorful paper butterflies. Coming to her home made me feel like a part of her family. I had no idea at the time that few doctors treated patients in their home anymore. I assumed that all doctors practiced medicine the same way. As a child, I understood the doctor-patient relationship in terms of trust, warmth, and kindness. I never feared going to the doctor, and when I was sick, heading to Dr. Sue’s office or home-office was a source of comfort.
“As I grew older, her advice extended to our overall social and emotional development…I distinctly remember her advice that healthy friendships are about treating each other with kindness and making each person in the relationship feel good about themselves”
As a practicing physician, Dr. Sue was a well-respected and brilliant pediatrician. She was a local expert in the area of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) research, and she wrote books on adolescent health. She was decisive about when to treat, when and whether to prescribe medication, and what non-medical, affordable treatments would do the trick. Her “prescription” of Crisco as an eczema cream was a miracle for my younger brother, who suffered from severe childhood eczema. She treated my younger sister when she was hospitalized with viral meningitis at three weeks old, communicating with and calming my parents throughout my sister’s hospitalization. She knew my and my siblings’ drug allergies and medical histories by heart, as well as our particular likes and dislikes. As I grew older, her advice extended to our overall social and emotional development. As I entered my adolescent years, a particularly awkward and confusing time for most teens, I distinctly remember her advice that healthy friendships are about treating each other with kindness and making each person in the relationship feel good about themselves; her advice has stuck with me even after my adolescent years and has formed the basis for my friendships ever since. I began to recognize the unique nature of her clinical practice, and I decided to become a pediatrician based on her example.
During my high school years I met other Dr. Sue patients, and I discovered that she made personal connections with all of her patient families. While I thought I was the center of her universe (a gift she unassumingly gave me), it turns out she was making a lasting impact on hundreds of patients. Dr. Sue’s kind disposition reflected the true meaning of healthcare, one that she took personally, and which transformed for her patients the fear of medical treatment and the unknown into a realm of comfort and security. Around this time I was accepted into a pre-medicine program for high school students at a well-known hospital and joined pre-medicine activities at my high school to learn more about the field of healthcare. Most of what I witnessed involved rushed, impersonal interactions in the delivery of healthcare. During the seventeen years I saw Dr. Sue for the treatment of my colds, stomachaches, fevers, rashes, and numerous other childhood maladies, she was kind, patient, and attentive in every interaction. She answered her own phone, day or night. Every phone call or visit was followed up with her request to “Let me know.” Sometimes she asked my parents when I or one of my siblings was sick to update her every hour throughout the night. She listened and gave slow, detailed instructions. During the entire time I knew her, she was never unreachable. She kept handwritten notes of every patient from every visit and every phone call, which she toted with her in a portable Rolodex.
When I was in high school, Dr. Sue was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Her illness progressed fast and weakened her immune system, preventing her from being around sick children. Because of her own illness, Dr. Sue had to give up what she enjoyed most: the daily practice of pediatrics. I was unaware of the extent and seriousness of her illness at the time, but noticed subtle changes. Previously a sole practitioner, she joined a large practice so that her patients would have continuous care even after she could no longer provide it herself. Soon, other pediatricians took her appointments. The other pediatricians I saw were in-and-out, did not know my medical history, and had no time to talk about my life events. The visits were quick and impersonal. These doctors never took the time to get to know me. Appointments were rushed and full of anxiety, and I missed Dr. Sue terribly. I finally understood why so many children cried at pediatrician appointments. I understood how much a physician’s demeanor, or “bedside manner,” matters and the difference one healthcare provider can make on a patient’s overall healthcare experience.
After Dr. Sue’s illness confined her to her home, my family visited her there. Her immune system was so weak that we had to talk to her through the glass window pane of her front door. Twice a year, I had the opportunity to tell her about my accomplishments and plans, and she was visibly excited to hear about them. During that time period, she mailed a letter to her patients, thanking us for allowing her to provide us with care, to be invited into our lives, and to be a part of our growth. She was enduring endless rounds of chemotherapy and surgery in the midst of end-stage cancer, and she wrote a letter thanking us!
“I proudly shared with her that I had been accepted to the direct-admit BSMD program at my state university, the same medical school she had attended. I told her of my plans to become a pediatrician like her, and how much she influenced my decision.”
I last visited Dr. Sue right before I started my first year of college. I proudly shared with her that I had been accepted to the direct-admit BSMD program at my state university, the same medical school she had attended. I told her of my plans to become a pediatrician like her, and how much she influenced my decision. I wanted her to know that her life’s work as a pediatrician mattered. Dr. Sue passed away before I started college. I cried for the loss of my pediatrician who had known me my whole life, for her family, for all of the patients’ lives she had touched, and for my oldest and dearest family friend.
Now in the second year of my combined BSMD program, I have taken several classes on healthcare delivery and the practice of medicine. I have come to realize just how amazing Dr. Sue truly was as a health care provider. Today there is a shortage of medical students going into clinical fields requiring day-to-day care. While talking with medical students approaching residency decision day, they hoped for residency specialties with the end goal of reduced hours and minimal patients’ family contact. In contrast, Dr. Sue spent her professional life treating children and comforting their parents, through both mundane illnesses and life-threatening ones. She gave out her personal cell phone number to the parents of every patient, and the patients themselves when they entered college, and answered every phone call personally. In one of the classes for my BSMD program, we learn how clinicians often refer their patients to specialists too readily, adding layers of expensive treatment and contributing to the epidemic of unaffordable healthcare. Dr. Sue applied her training, knowledge, and extensive experience wisely on a daily basis, and she knew when to refer to a specialist. Her 24-hour availability was a rarity in an age of healthcare answering services and corporate management of for-profit health systems. Dr. Sue’s dedication to medicine and the treatment of the individual in the context of a family unit are the reasons I am pursing a medical career. I want to emulate the way she provided health care by intimately knowing my patients’ medical and personal histories, providing comfort to my patients’ families, becoming an expert in my field, understanding the economics of healthcare delivery, and knowing when to refer patients for more specialized care. I will make personal connections a priority. I plan to honor her memory by carrying on her method of practicing healthcare with passion and heart. Given the impression Dr. Sue made on me and my career choice, I have no doubt there is a cohort of her pediatric patients who are also pursuing a profession in healthcare. I hope to someday meet them and share our stories!
About the Author: Naomi Ecanow
Naomi Ecanow is a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She is a volunteer student ambassador for the GPPA (Guaranteed Professional Program Admissions) Medicine program during the admissions season and plans to continue her full-time undergraduate studies in biochemistry for the next year and a half to two years before starting medical school. She is currently involved in research as a member of the Finn-Perkins research lab on the UIC medical campus, where she studies the microbiome.
Her numerous accolades include being an active member of the Society of Future Physicians through the Honors College at UIC, a recipient of the Outstanding Scholarship Award for UIC’s Bioscience 101 (Biology of Populations and Communities) course, and a Dean’s List Scholar of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Naomi is an active member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, the Golden Key International Honour Society, and the Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society.
Apply for CIA Medical’s 2018 Scholarship Today
CIA Medical is committed to supporting the next generation of leaders. Our annual scholarship is an opportunity to commemorate the positive outcomes that healthcare professionals have on their patients and their families.