A physician-educator brings her two loves together as a new dean.
Her family medicine residency at Brown introduced Christine Jacobs RES’85, MD, P’12, to the love of her life.
It was not an individual or a material object. “My true love is training physicians to care for underserved populations,” she says.
Jacobs, the dean and vice president for medical affairs at St. Louis University, nurtured that love starting in 1983 through her learning experiences at Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket. “When I came to Brown, I found my home and my people,” says Jacobs, who grew up in Los Angeles. “A compelling group of faculty members determined who I would become as an educator. They gave me a sense of what I wanted to do later as a teacher of residents and medical students.”
Memorial Hospital, which closed in 2018, served as home base for Jacobs and her peers in the early to mid ’80s. “Our outpatient clinic started as a house,” she recalls. “It was a building in a parking lot across from the hospital. It felt very connected to the community. That was the model I sought later when I was starting the residency program” at St. Louis University.
The Pawtucket facility provided a model for Jacobs’ future endeavors at SLU, but one mentor meant the world. The late Jack Cunningham, MD, a Pawtucket family physician who founded the Department of Family Medicine Residency Program at Memorial Hospital in 1975, was near the end of his career when Jacobs completed her residency. “He was a legend,” she says. “It was wonderful community-based training.”
Jacobs would have stayed in Rhode Island, but as a National Health Service Corps scholar she was placed in rural Hopkins Park, IL, a village of roughly 600 residents. She served as a medical director and staff physician at the local medical center. “I worked in a rural health center for three years doing the full scope of medicine—delivering babies, working in the ICU, and doing everything in between,” Jacobs says.
Going to Chicago to teach in the MacNeal and Advocate Illinois Masonic family medicine residencies afforded Jacobs the chance to embrace her interest in physician training. Nineteen years later, she made her way to St. Louis. One of the missions on her list there: starting a residency training program for doctors caring for underserved urban patients. She designed a curriculum to propel the program forward while she continued to practice family medicine. The SLU residency was recognized in 2017 with a “What’s Right with the Region” award for improving racial equity and social justice.
After practicing for more than 35 years, Jacobs relinquished that responsibility to become the dean at SLU. She’d had as many as four generations of a family in her practice. “I really loved the relationships between multiple family members and the extended family,” she says. “I love the challenge of primary care. Those relationships are critical to health. Very often, good health is not just medicine, but the things going on in their lives—if a person is depressed, has good family support, or doesn’t have good family support. Those determinants are often more important than medicine in health status.”
Jacobs’ experiences helped her understand the importance of community and context: that where people are plays a significant role in determining good access to health care. As a med student at Vanderbilt University, she spent a summer providing primary care in Appalachia and a second summer in a rural clinic in Africa. Jacobs was the first student to chair the board of the Vanderbilt Center for Health Services, a university-community health partnership. Helping to set up community health care clinics in Tennessee and Kentucky became a top priority for Jacobs during med school.
Her teaching career began at Brown, which built upon a Jacobs family education tradition: her father was a teacher. “I had really good teachers at Brown,” she says. “I was one of two chief residents. Teaching was a big part of that!”