November’s Spotlight interview, Karen Lee, is Director of Special Programs for the Sections of Academic Pediatrics and Pediatric Infectious Diseases and the Executive Director of ECHO-Chicago. In addition to all of that, she is also a parent.
“The biggest fight in the winter is getting them to wear the gloves or the hats, so imagine trying to get them to like wear a mask for long periods of time,”,” She explains. It was heartening to hear that Karen was able to convince her children, but not surprising from someone like Karen.
ECHO-Chicago focuses on building best practices in safety net institutions by supporting Primary Care Providers to be able to meet all the needs of their patients. The vision is for community members to receive high-quality care in locations they already know, with providers they have established relationships with, so that they don’t have to navigate learning a new system while simultaneously dealing with any possible health concerns they may have. It’s crucial work, as PCPs should address the full pallet of health topics not limited to: mental health, substance use, physical ailments, and COVID-19. “There are guidelines that medical providers are supposed to follow but there’s often a gap between what’s recommended and what providers feel they can actually do.” Addressing a client’s need holistically, as a whole person, gets difficult when in a limited resource setting.
Karen’s public health perspective is also layered with her artistic background. While her interest in health has been consistent throughout her life, she imagined becoming a medical illustrator while in high school; effectively melding her interests into one. In college she wanted to try something new: Karen worked for UChicago’s Maroon newspaper as the Art’s and eEntertainment Editor. Although she enjoyed the plethora of music, media, and content she interacted with, she knew her calling was closer to the medical field. Interested in health communications, Karen took a public health internship that blossomed into a career using the skills she developed to not only connect, but engage people and information.
It starts in the small details. In the times we’re living in, Karen has been self-reflecting. “Before it was the big thing right? The big thing brings you joy”. With more time and less places to go we are confronted with normalcy, as the mundane takes the stage. The gratitude we have for the little things will help us not take any semblance of regular life for granted after the pandemic. “We should appreciate the small things” Karen says. They aren’t guaranteed.