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Pediatrician Trades in Stethoscope for Dry-Erase Markers

December 2, 2019

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

By Mark Vruno

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Fenwick teacher and parent Dr. Jennifer Riggs was a practicing pediatrician for eight years.

“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.”

Editor’s note: In addition to being a new member of Friars’ faculty, Dr. Riggs also is a Fenwick mother. Two of her children are recent alumni: Charles Riggs III ’16 and Lauren Riggs ’18. Her third child, Allison Riggs, is presently a senior. The youngest sibling, Brian Riggs, will be in the Class of 2025. “My husband, Charles Riggs, Jr., graduated from Fenwick in 1986,” she adds.

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