Elizabeth Woodburn’s background fuels a unique perspective on the Carle Illinois experience. Elizabeth is one of two Illinois alumni to make up the Carle Illinois inaugural class. As a former simulated patient and current medical student, she is able to use her experiences to provide comprehensive care to patients. And, as an aspiring physician and someone living with a lifelong condition, she is able to understand the patient perspective as well as the physician perspective of medical technologies. It is clear from her measured calm and her casual warmth that Elizabeth will be a ‘people’s physician’: empathic to the situation and dedicated to the solution.

Growing up in the northern suburbs of Chicago, Elizabeth had always been more interested in literature and music than science and medicine. As the eldest of three sisters, one of Elizabeth’s favorite childhood activities was to cuddle up with a good book. It wasn’t until middle school and high school, when she started learning biology and had her first patient care experience working with the athletic trainers at her high school, that she discovered her natural curiosity for medicine. However, health care and medical technologies have always been a part of her life because there are three members of her family, Elizabeth included, who have type 1 diabetes. As a result, over the years, the Woodburn family has amassed a huge collection of medical devices, and Elizabeth has been able to see how the innovations have progressed. Elizabeth expresses that these childhood experiences were “more of a background formation than an implicit motivation” to pursue medicine. She understood that knowing the patient perspective of these medical diabetes technologies gave her unique insight into what should go into the development of them. From this and her growing interest in medicine, Elizabeth decided to pursue a degree in bioengineering.

Applying engineering principles to create patient-centered solutions

When deciding which schools to attend for college, Elizabeth was originally looking for schools all over the country. However, she had a cousin in the bioengineering program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and her parents had met on campus over 20 years prior. Thus, she decided to visit the campus and fell in love with the friendly atmosphere. Elizabeth majored in bioengineering and was involved in various activities across campus, including research and extracurricular activities. As part of the Illinois Scholars Undergraduate Research (ISHUR) Program, she conducted research with a professor and graduate mentor for three years working on a smartphone biosensor. Elizabeth enjoyed the various opportunities within the lab, including running biological tests, 3D printing, laying out circuit boards, and even running her own experiments. She was also involved in Illini Emergency Medical Services (IEMS) as a licensed emergency medical technician (EMT). As part of her engagement with IEMS, Elizabeth also worked on cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) outreach and education and later taught future EMT classes. Over the summers, Elizabeth worked at YMCA Camp Echo. She had attended the camp growing up and throughout college returned as a facilitator, working in the health clinic of the camp and acting as an adventure trip guide. Working in the health clinic of the camp was Elizabeth’s first experience in an immersive clinical experience, where she was living with the people whose medical needs she was attending to. Summers at Camp Echo have been special to Elizabeth. Throughout her bioengineering education and experiences working the lab, as an EMT, and at Camp Echo, Elizabeth’s interest in medicine was developing.

Elizabeth teaching CPR during her time with Illini Emergency Medical Services
Elizabeth teaching CPR during her time with Illini Emergency Medical Services

As an alumni of the University of Illinois, Elizabeth has had a unique perspective into the development of Carle Illinois College of Medicine. She recalls being in her senior year as an undergraduate and hearing about Carle Illinois from her research mentor, and when she heard that the brand new college was accepting applications, decided to apply. She learned of her admittance to Carle Illinois from Dean Li himself, who surprised Elizabeth at a research meeting to deliver the admittance package in person. The exciting moment was captured by other Carle Illinois staff who joined Dean Li in welcoming Elizabeth to the new college.

Elizabeth receiving a surprise offer of admittance to Carle Illinois from Dean King Li.
Elizabeth receiving a surprise offer of admittance to Carle Illinois from Dean King Li.

Coming to Carle Illinois as an alumni of the University of Illinois was a unique experience for Elizabeth. Of the feeling of mixing the familiar with the unknown, she says, “I knew the context, but it was a new experience to jump into.” She is able to share with her classmates an insider perspective on the Illinois community. As one of the youngest members of the inaugural class, Elizabeth says she was originally nervous connecting with her classmates. However, she says it’s been amazing how well everyone has gotten along, saying, “We all have different backgrounds and everything, but we started on this particular path together very much as peers.” Now, Elizabeth is able to share her Illini pride with them. For example, she was the first to notice how exciting it truly was that the Alma Mater was dressed up in a white coat for the first day of classes to honor the new college. Furthermore, she recalled a story of when she and her classmates went on a skiing trip together. While on the ski lift, Elizabeth spotted skiers below wearing Illinois gear. She called out to them “I-L-L”, and to the delight and amazement of her classmates, they yelled back “I-N-I!” She’s able to share little-known knowledge about campus, like how volleyball games at Huff Hall are an Illinois sports treasure or how a relaxing way to spend a night with friends is to drive out onto old roads, away from the lights, and stargaze. These are ideas for much-needed breaks in between studying that Elizabeth enjoys.

Two University of Illinois graduates, Elizabeth Woodburn and Alex Lucas, smile during the first week of class as Carle Illinois medical students.
Elizabeth with fellow University of Illinois alumnus, Alex Lucas, during the first week of class as Carle Illinois medical students.

Elizabeth’s motivation for studying medicine and becoming a physician comes from the joy she feels in helping other people and also from the growing curiosity she has for science, technology, and medicine. In her future career, she hopes to practice in a way in which her patients feel comfortable and experience that she is someone who is there to work through their concerns with them. She also wants to be working on new technologies to bridge the gap between the lab environment and the patient experience. She says that she needs to practice to maintain a connection with patients, but that she wants to work on developing technologies to further medicine. She says, “Having grown up living permanently attached to a medical device, it gives me a sense of some things that an engineer in a lab might not realize is impacting the patient’s ability to use the device or whether they are comfortable with it. And, so I see a need for those realms to come a little closer together.” It’s this ability to identify a clear need, vision for progress, and empathetic compassion, paired with the knowledge and skills she is building at Carle Illinois that will enable Elizabeth to improve the patient care experience.

The generosity of people like you made it possible for Elizabeth and her classmates to attend Carle Illinois with scholarships.