Meet our real doctor, Jessica McGee!
Dr. McGee has been a part of the AP Pediatrics team since August 2016, and she took time out of her busy schedule to chat with us about her journey to her specialty and to AP.
What would you say motivates you the most about what you do?
"Seeing how families grow and change with me and seeing how they come into their role as parents. I have a lot of young families in my practice and, for a lot of them, this is their first kid. So, they go from feeling like they don’t know what they’re doing—even though they’re doing great—to being really confident and handling anything their kids throw at them. I think that if I have been able to help them navigate that and feel confident, then that would be one of my favorite things about this job."
What are you most excited or passionate about in your specialty?
"I think that this changes all the time for physicians as their practice grows, so some of that is based on my general young practice. What brings me back is seeing people every couple of months, seeing how they’re changing, how their kids are growing, seeing how things we talked about at the last visit are working or finding new ways to try and help them adapt to parenting challenges that they’re facing. For the older kids that I’m starting to get to know better too, I see them doing well in school or make their plans for the future and really turn into the people they’re going to be and that’s really exciting."
What are the goals you most want to accomplish in your practice at AP?
"I see my biggest job and my biggest goal as assisting parents to raise healthy and well-adjusted kids who can turn into adults who can pursue whatever they want independently. A lot of that comes from the foundation of having healthy habits, having thoughtful health habits, and having thoughtful behaviors in school. I think a lot of my goal is to help parents figure out how to instill that intrinsic motivation in their kids. Specifically, I really like working with athletes. I see a lot of that so, I like keeping them healthy, keeping them in play, getting them back to play if they’re injured and that sort of thing. I think that’s one of the specific populations that I’m interested in working with. There’s so many high school athletes here who are going on to play in college and I think that getting them ready to go and helping them understand the demands on their body is one of my goals."
What about your personal career goals?
"I think the biggest thing for me is to formulate those long term relationships with families and get to the point that the babies I’m seeing now graduate and go to college and I think that’s one of the special things that pediatricians and career pediatricians get to do is see kids grow up and then sometimes even see the second generation. So, to build trust with a family who then says, “I’m going to bring my kids to you,” and to see that cycle start over would just be so neat and it’s something that I just haven’t been in practice long enough to experience, but would be sort of my long-term goal."
Did you always want to do Pediatrics?
"I think I always knew that I was going to work with kids. I have a younger sister. I grew up in daycare, and I was always the “mom” figure. I loved taking care of little kids, so I knew I wanted to work with kids. The question for me was in what venue, so I toyed with a couple different science fields and, ultimately, felt like the trust that people have with their pediatricians and the relationship that you get to build with them long-term was what I really liked. I looked at some things where you might be in a kid’s life for a shorter period of time, but not the 18-year span. So, once I figured out that I was going to do medicine, the pediatrics part was never a second thought."
What attracted you to work for Associated Physicians?
"I trained here in Madison and got to experience some of the other, bigger systems and even got to spend a day shadowing the pediatricians here when I was a resident. I really felt like they just had a different feel. The clinic had a homey, family vibe. All the doctors, nurses, and staff knew each other really well and all the patients seemed to like to be here. I got the sense that they didn’t feel that they were just a number, but instead they were known. I think that is something that really stuck out to me. This was how I wanted to practice. I had done a lot of leadership in college and in residency and I felt like being able to have a say in how things were run is the nice thing about a smaller practice. That’s something that resonated with me."
Where did you grow up?
"I grew up in a town called Bettendorf, Iowa, which is right on the Iowa-Illinois border."
What was it like to grow up in Bettendorf?
"The whole of Bettendorf is about the size of Madison, but Bettendorf itself would be like a “Verona.” It wasn’t too different really. I think that Madison being the capital has a little more interesting cultural stuff to do, but as far as general size and feel, it was about the same."
Where did you go to school?
"For undergrad, I went to a small liberal arts school in Illinois called Illinois Wesleyan and majored in biology. There were only about 2,000 kids, so there was a lot of opportunity to be involved and take a lot of leadership on there. Then I went to the University of Iowa for medical school, so I was back to my home state school! Part of that choice was because they had a really strong primary care program and, knowing that I was looking at pediatrics in general, I wanted to make sure that I was at a place with a good reputation for that. Then, I did my residency up here in Madison my chief residency year. That was just a feel-thing really. I had narrowed it down to mid-sized programs, which this is, and when I came to Madison for my interview, I just felt at home in the city and liked the vibe. I liked what they said about how active everyone is as a population here. People are getting outside, it’s very family-friendly and we knew we were on that path. About a year in, I think we knew we wanted to stay and raise a family here."
Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you’re committed to in your work and life?
"I think most pediatricians remember their pediatrician, and I definitely do remember enjoying my visits with him, but when I got to medical school, they just seemed like my people. I was impacted by the pediatricians that I met in medical school, and I had a couple sports medicine pediatricians that I particularly liked working with. When I did a year-long clinical experience with one of the pediatricians and I just liked their practice style. I was comfortable with them. Those were probably the biggest drivers in confirming that general pediatrics was what I wanted to do."
Bringing things full circle, what are some lessons you’ve learned over the course of becoming a pediatrician that you want to share with your patients and their parents?
"One of the interesting things about being a pediatrician and a parent is that you really start to figure out that there are some hard and fast rules, so there are evidence based guidelines that I want to follow and those are a bit more cut and dry, but a lot of pediatrics is just figuring out what’s going to work for your family and what’s going to work for your kids and their temperament. I think a lot of what I try to teach new parents is that there is not one right way to do most things and it’s easy to find so much information on the internet, from your friends, and from so many books and they all seem different and that’s because all kids are different. It’s all really about finding what’s going to work for your kids and I think that’s one of our jobs. We help parents figure out what method will work for their family and their kids. Mostly, I think the advice is try not to fall into too strictly into one category and try not to put the pressure on yourself to do it one way because, outside of a few things that we know are the safest or the best way to do things, a lot of it is just what’s going to work for you. As a mom, I’ve seen how my plan to do it one way doesn’t always work out and so you just move on to the next way."
What kind of advice would you give to someone wanting to be a pediatrician?
"I think the biggest thing is making sure that you take the time to explore all the different options because every aspect of pediatrics is different. Every practice is different, every subspecialty is different, and you really kind of have to find the right fit. Do you want to be the long-term person who sees them all the time and has a really broad sense of everything and a radar for when something isn’t quite right, or do you want to be the expert in one field? I think that was one of the hardest things to figure out in residency for me. Did I want to know everything and be able to send people to specialists if I needed it or did I want to know everything about one area, but maybe not see the kid for their whole lives. That’s a distinction that’s hard for people to know right away and they only figure that out by experiencing and working with different people. If you know you want to be a doctor and you know you want to work with kids, there’s still a lot more to come in that breakdown. It is hard, and, if you know that’s what you want to do, talk to as many pediatricians as you can, work with them for a day, follow them and see what’s it’s like, because you do make sacrifices in your life when you choose to go down this road. The hard thing to know as a younger person is how much reward there is, and I think you can only try and start to figure that out by talking to different pediatricians and getting different input. You have to be willing to work hard and commit to it, but if you have that piece of the intrinsic motivation down then a lot of the rest of it just comes naturally."
What’s next for you?
"Growing our own family. We are having our second baby and I’m excited to see how that changes my practice again. I’m excited to see how having two changes how I talk to parents and what I understand, but that’s the biggest thing for us. We feel like we’re settled here and we’re looking forward to starting to get in the school system. My kids aren’t in school yet but will be in the next couple of years so getting to really be more of a part of the Madison community in that way and the school community, activities, and just getting involved. Ultimately, I’d like to coach my kid’s sports teams and start to do some of that stuff outside as they get a little bit older."