Member Profile: Jan Rourke, MD, FAAP, Pediatrician at Grand Itasca Clinic & Hospital


JanRourkecolorWhat’s your background? What made you decide to become a pediatrician?

I remember making the decision to go into medicine when I was 11. I spent most of that summer in the ICU waiting room hoping that my father would recover from a cerebellar hemangioblastoma. I realized then the power that a physician has to change not only the life of the patient, but the lives of everyone who loves that patient.

My dad lived another 5 years and I was grateful for the additional time I had with him. I didn’t go to medical school right away; I got married at 19, became a nurse and had two kids. When I found that the desire to pursue medicine wouldn’t go away, I applied to and was accepted into the University of Michigan Medical school. My first year pathology professor promised that we would be able to indulge our passion for disease. I did my residency at U of M as well. I had grown up in Michigan and had a lot of family support there, so it was a great fit. When I graduated from residency my husband and I wrote out a list of our dream requirements for a first job. My attendings were tearing their hair out for fear I was too picky and would never be hired, but the folks at Grand Itasca called and said they had just what I wanted. I was the first resident in my year to land a job.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a rural practitioner?

I was the first pediatrician in Grand Rapids, MN. I developed a complicated practice early on because I was viewed as a specialist and everyone who had a child with chronic disease came to see what I was made of. When you live in a rural area, it’s not that you don’t have access to tertiary care, it’s just that you are asking a lot of your patients in terms of time, money, and effort, to obtain it. That means you need to be certain you need it before you send your patient several hours down the road to receive care. The first year I was in practice, I called the U of M helpline so many times the operators recognized my voice on the phone! Eventually, I developed relationships with specialists in Minnesota who would help me to prepare my patients as fully as possible before we invested in a trip to visit them.

I have been on the hospital board for the last 3 years and the decisions we make will affect health care in our community for years to come. This is a privilege, but sometimes a heavy responsibility.

What are some of the biggest advantages of being a rural practitioner?

Everyone is famous in a small town. My husband nearly drove off the road the first time he saw my face on a billboard. I’ve done local TV shows, radio, written newspaper articles, talked to various local groups and helped run an asthma camp for the past 10 years. I never get tired of walking into a room and hearing the stage whisper of some small child proudly exclaiming, “That’s my doctor!”

Grand Rapids is a resort town, which makes it easier to balance my love of the outdoors with the long hours of a pediatrician. During the nice weather I bike to work. I’ve tried cross country skiing the 4 miles to work a few times in the winter, but that takes a lot more planning. The lake is in my backyard. I can remotely access our electronic medical record, so during the long daylight hours in the summer, I can go out for a run, swim or a spin on the wakeboard and do my charts after dark.

What do you enjoy most about being a pediatrician?

Kids are fun. They cheer me up. No two days are ever alike. I enjoy being able to solve a problem and watching the relief of the parents as they see their child getting better. There are few things as satisfying as resuscitating a newborn or reducing a nursemaid’s elbow. In both cases the fix is quick and you can see the relief during a single visit. I’m learning to enjoy the longer-term problems as well because of the huge impact they have on the child’s life.

If you weren’t a pediatrician, what would you be and why?

My daughter taught English in Thailand and my nephew was in the peace corps in Burkina Faso. I was able to visit both of them and I was fascinated on both trips. The opportunity to be able to help others while doing both of those things appeals to me, so I might try to find a fit in the peace corps.

Any hobbies/interests outside of medicine?

I’ve been married for over 30 years. My son is starting his own business training athletes. He took me on as a personal challenge, and with his help last summer I was able to complete our local timber man triathlon: a 1-mile swim, 24-mile bike, and 6-mile run. I learned all about muscle cramps, but finished in the time allotted for the race! In February 2014, I plan to skate ski my 5th Birkie, a 50 kilometer ski race. I’m also starting to develop a fondness for Oregon as my daughter and her husband live there.

Annual Sponsors

Children's Minnesota
Gillette Children's
Hennepin Healthcare
University of Minnesota Health
Essentia Health
Mayo Clinic
Shriners Healthcare for Children-Twin Cities