Ever wanted to know more about AMS’s first Assistant Dean for Student Affairs? Murmur sat down with Dr. Jordan C. White, MD, MPH to get the answers to all your burning questions – and get some valuable advice about how to make the most of your time at AMS and in Providence
1. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? How would you describe your role at AMS to a stranger?
I did not grow up knowing I wanted to be a physician – in college, I thought it was a possibility, along with being a teacher or a camp counselor.
I spent four years between college and medical school exploring those possibilities, working as a camp counselor/outdoor education teacher/trip leader, running youth peer education programs through the American Red Cross, and serving as a live-in family support person at a Ronald McDonald House.
I did eventually go to medical school, and am now a family physician and preventive medicine physician (two specialties which both incorporate education, communication and other skills I gained in my previous roles). Now that I have become AMS’s first Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, I feel like I have truly brought together the pieces of my life that led me to medicine and education in the first place – sometimes I draw on my camp counselor-ing background when thinking about how to nurture our community at AMS, or when talking to students about the joys and challenges of medical school.
I draw on my teaching and preventive medicine skills through my role in the PC-PM program, in consulting work at the RI Department of Health, and through working with the Office of Medical Education to ensure that our curriculum is the best it can be. I continue to work as a family physician with our Family Medicine residents in Pawtucket (just north of Providence for those who do not know it yet!)
So to a stranger, I would say that I am a doctor-teacher-camp counselor in our community of medical students, and it’s a great fit and a wonderful career!
2. What would your perfect day look like?
I find this to be an interesting question – I have spent a lot of time over the years thinking about what would be the “perfect” balance, or the “perfect” job, or the “perfect” something else… and I have come to believe that perhaps the more important question, for me at least, is what are the positive things that are happening in my life right now (at work, at home, personally) and how can I nurture those so that they are more present?
So if I think about my daily life, a perfect day now is one where I am stimulated and challenged at work, feel like I have made a difference in the life of a patient or student or colleague, and then come home with enough energy to really enjoy my family (which includes two young daughters who require a lot of energy!) and to find joy in my time with them.
None of these things have to be big – on any given day I may not be saving a patient’s life, but celebrating with them a successful year without cigarettes; I may not be taking a giant family trip, but spending 30 minutes before dinner looking for worms without distraction and answering questions about whether you can see a worm’s mouth.
I think what you are really asking though is, what would I do if I had a day to do whatever I wanted? In that case, I would probably spend it doing something outdoors (hiking, canoeing, eating s’mores by a fire…) and it wouldn’t be raining.
3. What life-changing experiences put you on the path that led to what you’re doing today?
I’m not sure I had big “aha” moments that put me on this path – but when I look back on the trajectory of my life, a series of smaller experiences that pointed me in a certain direction, and eventually that direction brought me to this place that now ties together many of my previous interests and values.
Camp taught me that I loved working closely with people, and supporting kids through both the joys and challenges of life. The Red Cross taught me that I valued education and that knowledge can be a tool for empowerment; the Ronald McDonald House taught me that while I was very comfortable in the role of supporting families dealing with stressful situations, I also wanted to have more knowledge myself about the illnesses their kids were facing, and how to address them through medicine.
While it seemed a bit roundabout and tangential at the time, when I took all of those experiences and tried to make them fit together, medicine (and particularly family and preventive medicine) was a somewhat logical choice… and a role thinking about how to support students was also a natural piece of the puzzle when that opportunity arose.
4. What motivates you to do what you do?
A strong belief that medicine is a really incredible career and an honor to be a part of; yet an equally strong belief that we in medicine can do better, both in the ways we take care of ALL patients (from a health equity and social justice perspective), and in the ways we support medical students, residents, and attending physicians to be able to maintain this work over years, without such high rates of burnout, depression, and suicide.
I believe that our current generation of medical students is pushing us to do better in both of those areas, and I am proud to learn from all of you, and to be a part of what I believe to be a positive shift in the direction medicine is taking in these areas.
5. What are you most proud of?
Becoming a mom and working on integrating work and life into a cohesive, manageable, mostly joyful existence.
I’ve thought a lot about all of the discussions around burnout, resiliency, work-life balance, taking care of oneself… and I feel like for me, there may never be some perfect “balance” in that the number of hours I have are perfectly divided into the different parts of my life and that works exactly as planned every day.
But I do believe that there is a way to become comfortable with what the integration of work and non-work life looks like, and through many discussions, lots of reflection, and thinking about how to manage the different aspects of life, I think that I (and my family) have come to a place of pretty positive integration of the things that matter to us – meaningful, joyful work; quality (non-distracted) time and a reasonable quantity of time with family; advocacy work that matters to me; and more.
6. What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment time, energy, money, etc.)
Taking a day off about every 6 months with my partner (my husband – who I met in residency and is also a family physician) to connect, go for a walk, and reflect upon the past 6 months. This has really helped us to stay centered amidst the sometimes chaotic existence of two working parents with two busy careers, and allowed us to recognize the things in our lives that are going well, and also the things that we might want to reconsider because they no longer bring joy, or have meaning, or simply don’t have enough space/time amongst the others.
We’ve both made significant life changes thanks to these conversations, and they’ve allowed us to ensure that we don’t get “stuck” along paths that aren’t working for whatever reason. And sometimes if we don’t have major life issues to discuss, we just go for a longer walk, eat at a good restaurant, and hang out.
It feels special in a way too, that we actually take a day off of work to do this, because it shows us that we value this time, and because our kids are in school, and we’re playing hooky. 🙂
7. What advice would you give to your 25-year old self?
Hey, 25-year old Jordan (who just finished roaming around the wilderness and the world trying to figure out that you should go to medical school, and now you’re about to start) – it’s still ok that you don’t know where you want to be in 15 years… if you continue doing the things you love, reflecting on whether you still love what you’re doing, and having a thoughtful approach to life, wherever you end up will be the right place.
8. If you were a student, what is one opportunity you would take advantage of at AMS or in Providence?
AMS – it’s interesting for me to think about how I would be as a student at AMS because my medical school (University of Maryland) was so different! I think I would have to tell my student self that while the opportunities (for interest groups, pre-clinical electives, shadowing in various specialties, research, etc…) are seemingly endless, that what I really needed to take advantage of would be finding people (classmates, mentors) to figure out how to take a thoughtful approach to choosing which opportunities were right for me. Otherwise I think I would have taken advantage of too many opportunities and ended up overwhelmed (I am sure that is not happening to anyone here…)
Providence – WaterFire (I think I would try to go to every one!) and the Community Boating Club in India Point Park.
Dr. White first became part of the Brown family during her Family Medicine residency; she subsequently completed a fellowship in Preventive Medicine at the University of Massachusetts before returning to join the Brown faculty. Along with being an Assistant Professor of Family Medicine, she is an essential part of the medical school office, serving as AMS’s first Assistant Dean for Student Affairs.
Profile by Jeffrey Lam, MD’21 and Creative Content Editor