Carrie Jurkiewicz: Interview With The Right Fit HIPster Award Winner

The 2016 Right Fit HIPster Awards is a collaboration between Medelita and FemInEM with the purpose of celebrating and rewarding women EM residents who have identified a problem facing physicians, patients, or their community, and who have done something about it. With over 45 submissions from highly qualified applicants, our judges selected the top five winners who we felt most strongly have embodied this goal.

This week, we sat down and spoke with winner Carrie Jurkiewicz, who has been recognized for her work with ACEP’s Wilderness Medicine Society in the development of a Wilderness Medical Adventure Race to be held at the ACEP Scientific Assembly this October.


Name: Carrie Jurkiewicz

Age: 28

Residency program: University of Chicago Medical Center, Emergency Medicine

Medical school: Stritch School of Medicine

Passion project: Wilderness medical training

Favorite movie or TV show: Arrested Development and Forest Gump

Favorite or current book: Right now I’m reading Cutting for Stone. The Goldfinch is my most recent favorite book.

Favorite hobbies: I enjoy hiking, ballet and jazz dance, and yoga.

Now for the real questions....

What do you think you would have been if you weren’t a doctor?

I actually did have a Plan B if I hadn’t ended up being a doctor! I loved spending time in the outdoors with my dad growing up, and became very involved with environmental sustainability in college. During college I received a grant to install solar panels on a dorm building, oversaw our campus recycling, and even lobbied on Capitol Hill for environmental policy changes. If I didn’t get into medical school, my Plan B was to earn my masters degree in environmental science.

Best advice for people considering a career in medicine:

I would tell someone pursuing a career in medicine to fight the urge to become jaded and discouraged by the more mundane tasks of medicine. It’s important to always be reminding yourself of how amazing the field of medicine is, and to be aware of what a privilege it is to provide medical care to other people.

Best words of advice you’ve received:

This isn’t strictly related to medicine, but my dad told me once when I was nervous, “You have to walk in like you own the place. You already know how to do it, you know you can do it, you just need to remind yourself that you can!” I still tell myself this when I have an interview or am walking into a stressful shift.

Most inspiring role model in your medical career:

My mom is probably the person who most inspired me to go into medicine. She is a nurse and was actually going through nursing school while raising me. Having that medical influence from a young age is part of the reason I chose a career in medicine.

What is the most important skill you’ve developed on your path to becoming a doctor?

The ability to multi-task has definitely been the biggest challenge for me, but I’ve really grown in this skill. Another valuable skill I’ve gained is the ability to truly listen to people and prioritize what is most important when patients are describing their symptoms. 

What do you love most about what you do?

Given my love of the outdoors and passion for the environment, I knew as soon as I learned about wilderness medicine that I wanted to be a part of this field. Practicing medicine is what makes me the happiest, and wilderness medicine allows me to practice in the environment where I am the happiest - outdoors, in the mountains, immersed in nature. I never thought I would be able to find such a perfect match, and I feel very lucky that this is what I get to do. In the ER, I love leaving every shift feeling like I have truly and substantially helped someone who needed it.

What is the most inspiring patient or clinical experience that you’ve had?

During my second year of medical school, my dad died unexpectedly of a heart attack. It was the hardest thing I have ever been through. On the last day of my intern year, I had a patient about the same age as my dad who came in with chest pain. We quickly diagnosed a heart attack on his EKG and got Cardiology involved. He received a cardiac stent and did very well.

During this experience I remember thinking that if my dad had been able to get to an ER sooner, maybe things would have turned out differently and he would still be here. In this case, I was able to make a difference for the patient who did come in, and I felt for the first time that I was the one who had saved someone’s life. It was one of the happiest moments I have ever experienced.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve seen for women in healthcare?

In some areas of medicine women are still a minority. While that has fortunately been changing in Emergency Medicine, the field is still male-dominant. I think women in my field experience similar pressures as women in any field of medicine, that constant balancing act of nurturer vs. breadwinner. What is nice about EM is that women have more control over their schedules, which lends itself to more professional and personal satisfaction.

I am very lucky that in my workplace, I feel I am treated no differently than my male coworkers.

What is the biggest challenge for the healthcare system today?

One of the biggest problems we see in Emergency Medicine today is the opioid epidemic. In many cases the EM physicians are the first ones to meet with a patient who is in pain, and they have to decide whether the patient is prescribed an opioid or given Tylenol. We have the potential to act as gate-keepers to a patient’s first opioid prescription. I have seen large variations in how each EM physician chooses to approach pain in the ER, and I think a unified approach would help in starting to address this issue.

What do you plan on doing with your $500 award?

For now it will go into my travel fund! My fiance and I love to travel and we are planning possible upcoming trips, possibly to Iceland or Ireland.

How do you try to convey a professional appearance at work?

I’m one of the rare ER doctors who wears her white coat to work every day! I wear standard scrubs and usually wear small stud earrings for a bit of professional style.