Meet your chief resident: Jenny Van Kirk, MD

Jenny Van Kirk, MD, is the 2018-19 chief resident for internal medicine at Duke University Hospital. Dr. Van Kirk is passionate about medical education. “It is something that I really enjoy, and I want it to be a part of my career forever,” she said. One of Van Kirk’s goals for the year is to lead by serving. Van Kirk is a graduate of Bradley University and received her MD from Georgetown University School of Medicine. She will be returning as a hospitalist at Duke University Hospital after her chief resident year.

Jenny Van Kirk, MDHow did you end up at Duke?
During medical school, I always thought I would go back home to the Midwest for residency, but I didn't want to limit myself so I applied all over the country. When I came to Duke for my interview, I had a feeling that no other place could replicate. I really loved the people, the atmosphere, and the culture of the program. Seeing residents walk in to noon conference and hug each other because they hadn't seen each other in two days, I thought was just really something special. Dr. Zaas obviously played a big part in that. Listening to her speak about the things she took pride in for the program was really something that resonated with me. I knew that Duke would be a place where I would receive an amazing training while also being surrounded by amazing people. It truly has been that perfect balance.

Did you always want to go into medicine?
Growing up, medicine was the last thing I ever thought I would do. My dad was a family practice physician, my mom was a nurse and I hated medicine. I didn't want anything to do with it. I didn't like going to the hospital with my dad. I didn't like going to the nursing home to visit my grandparents. I thought I was going to be a lawyer in high school, and I think by the time I finally figured out that law wasn't for me, I was headed off to college. At that point, I thought I might pursue engineering or actuary science, but discovered relatively quickly that I needed to have more human interaction in my future profession. There had been many hints along the way, but the moment that changed everything was actually a phone conversation with my dad. I had called him because I was worried about what I was going to do with my life and he finally just said, "well Jen, what about medicine?” and here we are.

What are your main responsibilities as Chief Resident?
I see the role as an opportunity to give back. This program has given me so much over the course of three years. I want to use this year to give myself and everything that I can back to the program and to the residents that have taught me so much. The chief role really is whatever the residents need you to be, whether that is a confidante, a mentor, an advocate, a scheduler, an administrator or an educator. I'm looking forward to that variation, and I'm sure there will be things that I don't expect. 

Do you remember a key teaching moment from your training that helped you become a better doctor?
In medical school, I had a mentor who said that he never wanted anyone to hear him say, "that's not my job.” That has always stuck with me and I try to emulate that in my own life, both personally and professionally. Whether it's helping a patient onto the bed pan, getting someone a fresh pair of socks or another blanket, I don’t ever want anyone to hear me say, "that's not my job." I think as physicians, with the time constraints and demands that are on us to do so many other things, we sometimes overlook the simplest tasks. However, I think that’s a really important way to help patients and to develop and nurture the patient-physician relationship.

Can you share a fun or meaningful moment from you training that illustrates #DukeFamily?
About six months into our intern year, I felt that I knew my co-interns relatively well. There was one particular resident who I spent a lot of time with. We rotated together, and I thought I knew her pretty well, but I found out from someone else that she had a PhD in English and was a Faculty Affiliate at the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities, & History of Medicine. I had no idea. She never would have told any of us, and I think that is really the type of people that are here at Duke - amazing individuals, but people who would never brag about themselves, never tell you the incredible things that they are doing. They just do them because that's what they love and that’s what they are passionate about. I was floored by the immense talent of the people that I was surrounded by and also the incredible humility of those same individuals. I was and continue to be inspired by my Duke Family on a daily basis.

What is your approach to leading and working with residents?
I want to be able to be there for the residents and lead by serving, by doing whatever it is that they need. If it's covering their pager for an hour so that they can just go get a break or breather outside or really whatever it takes to help them grow as physicians, as educators of their medical students and whatever it is that they want to be.

What makes you a good fit for this role?
I have a passion for medical education. It is something that I really enjoy and I want to be part of my career forever so I am really excited for this year and the opportunity to focus more on education.  As crazy as it sounds, I don't mind the administrative stuff either so I think it'll be a fun combination of all those things.

What assets did you look for in your chief resident that you plan to bring forward during your chief year?
We have been lucky enough to have some awesome chief residents over the years and if we can channel their various strengths, then I think we'll be successful as a team.  Our chief residents were and still are amazing educators, advocates, listeners, and leaders. We have big shoes to fill!

What do you want to do after your chief resident year?
I want to continue working on my career as a medical educator through hospital medicine.

What do you want to do for fun?
I love to travel, love to be outside and spend time with friends and family.

Written by NyAsia Harris, communications intern for the Department of Medicine.