NEOGA, Ill. (AP) - Dr. Kimberly Whitaker has learned to be appreciative and resourceful through her medical experiences in such places as Alaska, New Mexico, Ecuador and Afghanistan.
But now the 38-year-old Neoga native and daughter of Jim and Rhonda Whitaker is happy to be back to her roots, where her dream of becoming a doctor began. She was recently hired by Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System for its Charleston Family Practice.
“I can hardly remember a time when I didn’t want to be a doctor. I started talking about it seriously in high school. My parents and grandmothers taught me the value of helping other people,” she said.
A 1995 graduate of Neoga High School, Whitaker attended the University of Illinois in Urbana, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies in 1999. She later earned her medical degree from James H. Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University, in Johnson City, Tenn.
Early on, Whitaker became interested in mission work. Her first experience was in high school when her youth group took a trip to the Appalachian Mountains. She participated in a few youth mission trips before agreeing to be a chaperone on two mission trips in college.
During her medical school years, mission trips were typically how she spent her spring breaks. Three times she visited and worked in Riobamba, Ecuador. Her desire to be a missionary in that country was prompted by her previous mission experience and membership in the Christian Medical and Dental Association, which sponsored the missions through its Global Health Outreach.
The experience not only broadened her worldly knowledge but her medical skills as well.
“As students, we assisted in the pharmacy, did basic triage for the doctors and helped the dentists. It was, I hope, the only time I will ever be pulling teeth,” she said.
Whitaker’s first trip to the country placed her high in the Andes Mountains with the Quechua people, who are descendants of the Inca population. Translation from their native language to English and back to the Quechuan language, in many cases was needed.
After graduating medical school, Whitaker took two more mission trips - one in 2008 to Afghanistan and another in 2011 to Honduras.
“In Honduras and Afghanistan, we worked in a ‘clinic,’ which was a cinder block building with two exam rooms that was normally staffed by a health care worker. We did move into several different villages in Afghanistan. One was a new settlement for internally displaced people. There I worked inside the room that was considered the clinic, so I could have privacy to work with women,” Whitaker said.
Her medical training would take her to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she became fluent in Spanish and provided care to the Pueblo, Navajo and urban Indian populations.
Upon completing her residency three years later, Whitaker began working in Alaska to fulfill her commitment to working in rural health care as part of earning the National Health Service Corps scholarship. Working in several different locations with many cultures was educational and in ways life-changing as she adapted to living in Alaska.
“Bethel is a ‘fly in and fly out’ community on the Western coast of Alaska. It’s the hub for 58 villages of Yu-pik Eskimo people. Many of them still live a very traditional lifestyle of hunting, fishing and living off the land,” she said.
While Whitaker’s house in Alaska had some conveniences like running water, it only happened because the water had to be delivered by truck.
“(Being there) taught me a lot about ‘needs vs wants.’ I learned about what it really means to have respect for community elders and to celebrate your own culture. I made very good friends because we had only each other,” she said.
Whitaker most recently worked locally in health care for the medically underserved at Promise Healthcare in Champaign starting in 2010, just prior to joining SBL.
Whitaker said she loves the time she spent immersed in diverse communities because they allowed her to meet people and experience different cultures in ways no other type of travel can. But they also served another purpose.
“I am a Christian, so this is also a chance to see God work with and through people. I find (the trips) to be energizing. I have never gone on a trip and not come home with a strong faith and re-energized to do my job in the U.S., as a mission,” said Whitaker, who is now married to Matt Stump, an associate pastor at the Monticello United Methodist Church.
The experience has affected how Whitaker approaches not only her own life, but the care she gives her patients.
At the Charleston SBL Clinic, Whitaker’s special interest is in women’s health and preventive care. However, her newest practice encompasses people of all ages and both genders. She believes in encouraging people to take an active role in their health, having seen first-hand the effects of inadequate health care.
“In Ecuador, we worked in schools. We worked with people of all ages, from babies to elders so old they didn’t know how old they were. We always saw a lot of children. Childhood mortality rates are always very high in these countries and well child care does not really exist. Moms bring in their kids because it is amazingly reassuring to have a doctor say, ‘Your child is fine.’”
Whitaker is grateful for the advanced medical care available here, but at the same time she has an understanding of providing the best care possible, even with few resources.
“Both the mission trips and living in Alaska have taught me how to practice medicine when I have very few resources, which helps me to help patients make good decisions about what tests and treatments are truly needed.”
Source: Effingham Daily News, https://bit.ly/1HTP4LP
Information from: Effingham Daily News, https://www.effinghamdailynews.com
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