Despite having the title of flight surgeon with the U.S. Coast Guard, Dr. Jared Rispens ’09 cares for his patients while on the ground. He serves the Coast Guard in Mobile, Alabama, as an active duty member of the Commissioned Corps of the United States Public Health Service.
He is an internal medicine doctor for pilots, air crew, air traffic controllers, and drone operators. Because of the unique stresses their bodies endure, aviators are held to high physical standards. Rispens flies at least once a week to understand the rigors of flight, to establish rapport with the aviators, and to ultimately better care for his patients. He took special training to become more familiar with Coast Guard aircraft.
Rispens graduated from Calvin with a BA in Spanish and served as the student body president. He earned his medical degree from the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, did his residency at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, and then went to work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before taking his current role with the Coast Guard.
Rispens recalls the path that helped lead him where he is today. “During residency, there were no specialties that spoke to me except infectious diseases. It really fascinated me, all the different types of bugs and pathogens that could cause so much illness.”
After former CDC officers at Rush encouraged him, he entered the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the CDC, a competitive postdoctoral program. Those in the program act as disease detectives helping to determine what triggered a disease outbreak. During the program doctors go through a process to determine what division of the CDC they’ll work with. Rispens matched with a new position in the vessel sanitation program at the CDC. As part of his work, Rispens flew out to cruise ships to investigate norovirus and other disease outbreaks.
Growth as a knight
Rispens is grateful for his Calvin education that prepared him well for where he is now. He says his time at Calvin “was probably the best four years of my life so far. So many things were jam-packed into those years.” Study-abroad terms in Honduras, China, Spain, and Ecuador defined his Calvin experience. They prepared him for his career and gave him a broad, diverse worldview, which he credits to leading to his success.
Serving as student body president was formative in helping him grow. “What I loved the most was getting to know all the senators, learning to lead a big team, learning to lead small teams,” he said. It was such a gift and a blessing to me and it really grew me as a person and prepared me for the spots I’m in now.”
His Calvin connections remain strong and have strengthened recently by working with Dr. Laura Champion, director of Health Services at Calvin. She got to know Rispens when he was at Michigan State and she served on the faculty. During his time at MSU, Rispens was chair of the Christian Medical and Dental Association, and Champion was the mentor for that group. Since the start of the pandemic, Champion and Rispens have had regular conversations about the coronavirus and how best to mitigate exposure for students, faculty, and staff on campus. His advice has helped to keep people working, studying, and living together safely on campus.
He sees his work as living out Calvin’s mission. “My Calvin education pushed me and equipped me to do my job. … I have the privilege of walking alongside people in health challenges and in their normal lives and that is my role as an agent of renewal, to show the compassion that Christ has given me for these people and to share life with people in that way.”
Visit Calvin's Facebook page to view a video interview with Rispens and learn more about his work and interests.