Pediatrician Trades in Stethoscope for Dry-Erase Markers

New Fenwick Science Teacher Jennifer Riggs, M.D. no longer practices pediatric medicine, but she still works with children.

By Mark Vruno

“I don’t want to go to anatomy class today,” a Fenwick junior was overheard last month, lamenting in one hallowed hallway of Fenwick. “Why not?” a staff member inquired. “Who’s your teacher?”

“Dr. Riggs,” the student replied. “Her class is so hard! She’s smarter than all of us.”

The 17-year-old has a valid point: Jennifer Riggs was a pediatrician before she embarked on a career change to become a teacher. Riggs earned her M.D. in 1995 from Rush Medical College at Rush University in Chicago. (Her B.S. in psychology came from Indiana University.) For three years, she served as a resident pediatrician at Rush Children’s Hospital on the Near West Side. For the next five years, she commuted northbound to Shriners Children Hospital on Oak Park Ave. In early 2004, Dr. Riggs left the field of medicine to don her “mom hat” and raise her four children.

“My career has transitioned from pediatrician to science teacher: my true calling,” Riggs explains. After deciding to enter the field of education, Riggs went back to school to pursue a master’s degree in teaching, which she earned locally at Dominican University in River Forest almost five years ago. “My decision stemmed from a desire to develop sustained relationships with young people that affords me the opportunity to have a significant impact on their lives.”

After completing her student-teaching assignment at Josephine Locke Elementary School (Chicago), Dr. Riggs taught math, science, technology and religion for one year at St. Edmund Parish School in Oak Park, then moved on to Visitation Catholic School in Elmhurst to teach junior-high life/physical science and religion classes for the next three years. As a sponsor of the Illinois Junior Academy of Science “Science Fair,” she guided more than 100 students in planning, researching and conducting their projects. She also served as the Science Olympiad Head Coach at Visitation.

Dr. Riggs joined the faculty at Fenwick, where she is teaching five classes this academic year: two sections of Accelerated Anatomy & Physiology and three sections of College Prep Anatomy & Physiology. “I am one of the faculty moderators for the Medical Club,” she adds. 

A different kind of impact on young lives

As for her decision to become a teacher, “I could not be happier with my career,” Dr. Riggs reports. “Teaching has given me the opportunity to get to know my students on a much deeper level than I knew my patients when I was practicing as a pediatrician. I look forward to coming to school each day because of the energy and enthusiasm shown by the students.

“I see my current position teaching Anatomy and Physiology at Fenwick as the perfect fit for me,” the doctor adds. “From my perspective, the biggest drawback to practicing medicine was the lack of time to really get to know my patients. My appointments tended to be relatively short and I often did not see that child again for a significant period of time (some I never saw again at all). Through teaching at Fenwick, I am able to build meaningful relationships with students. What I find unique about my particular position is that I am able to form those relationships through focusing on a topic I am passionate about: the human body.

“Many of my students are planning careers in the medical field,” Dr. Riggs concludes. “I find nothing more satisfying than sharing my knowledge with them and seeing their enthusiasm about the workings of the human body.”

Continue reading “Pediatrician Trades in Stethoscope for Dry-Erase Markers”

Legalized Pot Could be a ‘Scary Bag’ for the U.S. Health-care System

As legal weed looms in Illinois (January 1, 2020), a Fenwick alumnus and medical doctor warns that the effects of recreational marijuana usage often are shrouded in smoke screens.

By Dr. Albert Mensah ’82

Greetings, Fenwick Family. My name is Dr. Albert Mensah, and I am a proud Fenwick alumnus — a member of the graduating class of 1982. I can say without hesitation, that my time at Fenwick provided an outstanding academic and spiritual foundation for the life that was ahead of me: a life that has included medical school; opening and successfully running (with the help of an outstanding business partner and colleague) a medical clinic that specializes in cognitive health, speaking engagements and teaching/training opportunities around the world; and, most importantly, a rich and fulfilling family life. I am most thankful that Fenwick has been, and continues to be, an important part of my life.

My reason for writing to you today, however, goes far beyond wanting to express my gratitude for the opportunity to be part of the Fenwick community. Rather, I want to share with my Fenwick family some concerns that several members of the mental healthcare community, including myself, have felt compelled to be outspoken about lately, given the recent direction taken by lawmakers regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Stated simply, marijuana is not the benign substance that many in the media and the legislature have made it out to be. Its effects can be quite devastating, and as it becomes more readily available, we anticipate a significant rise in the medical and social problems that are connected to regular marijuana use. For example, the American Academy of Family Practice recently cited several studies that link marijuana to the development of schizophrenia.

These studies indicate that regular users are six times more likely to develop and exhibit schizophrenic* symptoms. These same studies also point to decreased motivation, increased lethargy and a lack of focus and mental clarity that persists beyond the time that a user is “high.” Other studies point to a correlation between marijuana use and reproductive difficulties, particularly in males. These studies indicate that regular male users of marijuana have an exceptionally high risk of developing erectile dysfunction (ED), and that medications such as Viagra and Cialis are ineffective in treating marijuana induced ED symptoms.

*Schizophrenia is a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation.

Even though full recreational marijuana use laws do not go into effect in Illinois until January 1, 2020, we are already seeing the results of a more relaxed atmosphere and increased availability in our clinic, Mensah Medical, located in Warrenville, IL. At Mensah Medical, we specialize in the natural treatment of psychological, cognitive, and neurological health disorders. We identify the biochemical imbalances that most frequently contribute to those disorders and prescribe nutrient therapy to overcome those imbalances. We regularly treat patients who come to us with Autism, ADD/ADHD, Anxiety, Depression, OCD, Eating Disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, Dyslexia, Parkinson’s and several others.

Of late, we are seeing a significant increase in the number patients with Schizophrenia, and far too often, those patients indicate that their symptoms started or worsened as they began or increased their use of marijuana. It is important to note that the vast majority of these patients are young males between the ages of 18 and 27.

Apathy: the real cost

We certainly recognize that there is another side to this debate. We are aware that many people have used illegally obtained marijuana for years with few obvious or lasting side effects. We acknowledge that there are medical cases, such as cancer and chronic disease, in which controlled, physician-monitored use may make marijuana a viable and effective pain-management option. We also recognize that combatting the illegal distribution of marijuana leads to costly law enforcement efforts and the incarceration of many non-violent offenders, most often from communities of color or economic disadvantage. There are reported state and local income-generation benefits that will come from taxing what is already a robust industry. 

Continue reading “Legalized Pot Could be a ‘Scary Bag’ for the U.S. Health-care System”