Black Excellence: Renita White
Renita White, a UIC alumna, is a physician assistant at the Mile Square Health Center. She evaluates, diagnoses and treats common medical conditions and performs basic and intermediate surgical procedures. She provides compassionate, thoughtful care to patients in every care setting, and she deeply enjoys interacting with all of her patients. With more than 15 years of practice, White has developed an impressive breadth of knowledge and a unique skillset, and she feels true satisfaction knowing her efforts can help her patient feel better and happier. She embraces self-care and the connection of mind and body in her practice of treating the whole patient. White graduated from UIC’s exercise physiology program in 2006.
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Tariq El-Amin 00:01
Welcome to Black Excellence at UIC Office of Diversity, Equity and Engagement with Dr. Aisha El-Amin.
Recording of Dr. Martin Luther King 00:09
[Applause] Believe in yourself and believe that you’re somebody.
Clips from 1995 movie “Panther” 00:17
That we study and master a bunch of different things.
Why are you here?
Study and master a bunch of different things.
I’m proud to introduce our new Minister of Information.
Aisha El-Amin 00:26
I’m Dr. Aisha El-Amin.
Tariq El-Amin 00:29
Welcome to “Black Excellence.”
Aisha El-Amin 0:32
Hello, hello family and friends. Welcome to you UIC’s podcast, “Black Excellence.” I am Dr. Aisha El-Amin, and I am so elated to welcome our new guest today. As you know, our UIC “Black Excellence” podcast started off with “28 days of Black Excellence.” And there’s just so much coming out of you. We couldn’t stop in February, we had to keep going. So monthly, you will continue to hear about stories that inspire you, stories of students, of faculty, of staff that are just doing really phenomenal things in the world. It’s the legacy that has been built at UIC.
And so I’m really honored today to talk to Renita White. And I’m just going to kind of back away and let her tell us a little bit about it. So just you know, where are you from? What was your degree and what are you doing now?
Renita White 1:30
Well, thank you for having me on the show, Dr. El-Amin. I really appreciate the opportunity. I am originally from the south suburbs, and I actually attended school at HF in high school and graduated UIC’s exercise physiology program back in 2006. Interesting enough, I also went to also went to an HBCU prior to coming to UIC in Texas. So I needed to be back closer to home came back home, attended to UIC, and I also joined the Army Reserves at that time.
I learned how to become a surgical tech and doing a freshman project, I had the opportunity to interview with a hospital administrator. So within the Medical District, there was only one female that I chose, of course, I wanted to interview a female. And she was ever so gracious to give me her time. I thought she’d give me just 15 minutes, but she gave me way more than that, in addition to an opportunity to meet her protege, which was the director of surgical services. So from that one meeting and school project, I had the opportunity to actually have a full-time job at UIC’s operating rooms. So I worked on the west side of campus, I went to school on the east side of campus. So it was a great opportunity.
Upon graduating the military of course, we had a little situation in 2003, and I got called to be deployed. It was a short war. And we came and left. So I was only gone for three months. And during that time, I actually got sick. And when I got sick, I actually had the opportunity to meet a physician assistant. So while I went through my undergrad and worked as a surgical tech, I enjoyed my surgical tech job and all the people I met who taught me so much in the operating room.
I was one of the youngest actually to go start working in the operating room. Now there’s plenty of people that are much younger in the operating room as surgical techs. But when I met that one PA, physician assistant, in Georgia, who was a teacher at Emory, she encouraged me to consider applying to PA school. I had never heard of it and had to learn more about it before of course I applied. I applied and ended up applying at the very first school in the state of Illinois, which was John H. Stroger Cook County Hospital. I also applied to a couple other places and was able to actually be accepted at all of them to my surprise, even prior to even prior to finishing some of my prerequisites. So it was very refreshing to have that opportunity because I learned about the surgeries. I just wanted to see more about the treatment and what happened and how did the patient get there and what could be prevented to keep them from having a surgery.
So being a physician assistant has offered that to me. I’m able to work in a variety of specialties. So I have worked in the emergency room, internal medicine, family medicine, general surgery and plastic surgery, urgent care, and now back again at primary care and urgent care. So it has given me kind of like a full circle view, and I’m able to educate my patients from my attending in the most holistic manner, and treating their conditions to prevent them from going into surgery or having to have a progression of their disease process. So it’s been very, it’s been very beneficial for me in this career that really kind of initiated out of UIC and my bachelor studies.
Aisha El-Amin 5:33
That’s excellent. So I have two connections with you. So I have children who all graduated out of HF, I’m in Flossmoor. And then I served in the military, the Army, as an MP for five years. Active duty. [“Awesome” – Renita] So it’s your military, you know, I know, wel,l tell the audience about what you are doing in the military right now. You know, I have to let you brag a little bit.
Renita White 6:06
You know, I come from humble beginnings. I started out as a PFC. I was a surgical tech as a private first class at E-3. So I worked my way up, and I had some amazing mentors who always encouraged me: Take every class that’s offered in the military, do everything you can in leadership and opportunities. And I only thought I’d really do eight years or the six years and get out and go to the inactive ready reserve.
But now, I have been in the military for 22 years. And I’m now an 0-4. I was actually pinned by an alum of UIC School of Public Health, Colonel Webb Booker, at the time. And she was an amazing aspiration for me. I had my very first turning, I said, “I want to be like her one day,” and eventually, as soon as I became an officer as a physician assistant, so I went from a surgical tech to becoming a physician assistant in the military, I had the opportunity to command. I actually commanded a chemical company, which is the only chemical company in the city of Chicago. So you do see other locations, but those are armories, so armors. So the armory is more so the National Guard. Whereas the Reserve side of the house, that chemical company at 74th and Pulaski that’s an Army Reserve station. And I had the opportunity to command there as a higher headquarters detachment commander and as a company commander, me being a Medical Officer Commanding chemical troops.
So I had an amazing experience, had amazing leadership that taught me some valuable lessons and experiences in leading troops. Plus, having the experience I had as an enlisted soldier, it gave me greater insight to help my soldiers to aspire to do more, aspire to be their best in the positions that they were in. And they’ve gone on to do some amazing things as well. So my last command, which now number three, I commanded the field hospital, it’s a higher headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, about 250 soldiers there. And it’s always, definitely an amazing challenge.
But I do think I’ve had a resounding impact. As my soldiers still call me, they ask for advice. They respect me. And they oftentimes are interested in doing more in the military, as opposed to trying to get out. So with those types of values, it’s important to pay it forward and continue to progress. Because you just never know how much more benefit you receive out of it as you benefit others. So it’s been it’s been an interesting ride, I can get out. But I have a couple more goals to achieve. And then I’ll hang it up.
Aisha El-Amin 9:01
All right, Major. All right. So as I hear you, I’m inspired by you. And I know that it was a journey. So as students who are just starting out their journey from the various parts of the city, in the state in the country, what is some advice that you would offer for folks journeying and trying to figure out, as you said, you were a surgical tech and now a PA. So like, how does that look?
Renita White 9:34
I appreciate that question. Because I think it’s important for one people to see someone that looks like you, you know, as a physician assistant. It is predominantly a female-dominated profession, but only 3.6% African American. So that being said, I do think it’s important because physician assistants are in a variety of aspects where you’ll see them at your doctor’s visit, at your urgent care visit, at your orthopedic visit. You can see a PA in various opportunities without throughout your lifetime. You may or may not even realize that you just might call them doc, which they’ll take graciously and still let you know they’re the PA or physician assistant, but they definitely take their positions and hold it to high esteem as the purpose is in educating our patients and increasing the medical knowledge and patient awareness and advocacy.
So with those factors, I always encourage anyone else in that student realm and trying to figure out where you are, or what it is you have a desire to do. I encourage patients or I encourage students to basically not just knock on the door. When you knock on the door, it’s just that opportunity for it to open. And I really am grateful for everything that’s happened to me because it’s almost like everything’s been full circle for me in the variety of fields that I or positions and opportunities that I’ve had. When I was, even before I became a surgical tech, I worked for Famous Footwear, helping customers put on shoes, which taught me on the kinesiology side how your actual gait can affect your hips and your knees, which, in turn, helps me in educating my patients as a PA.
So with this process, my full circle just helps more people along the lines. And then for students, no matter what it is you have a desire to do, if it’s a thought, I’d say just knock and ask whoever you can. I was so nervous asking that hospital director for her time, because I also aspire to become in administration as well. And she was so gracious with her time and efforts. And it was just amazing to me in that interview. And I can recall that now. But her path that she traveled wasn’t even in medicine. But definitely, her impact was very lasting in her leadership role for UIC hospital. And of course, being a female. So within a leadership role, when I’m asked for an assignment, she opened the door to many other opportunities that I didn’t even have a clue were possible. So it’s definitely tapping in. And once you tap in and make acquaintances with people and have those conversations, people will see what’s in you and put you in a position to allow you to progress in excel as well. So if it’s there, just go for it.
Aisha El-Amin 12:40
Absolutely. Now, you really touched on something. Throughout you’ve mentioned people who you’ve had encounters with that have really changed your trajectory, right? That really open up and gave you access into different ways of seeing things. Even you know, Colonel Webb Booker, and you know, all of the people that impacted you, what advice do you give around, you know, taking chances and building relationships, because I know, even before we started recording, you talked about the Colonel and the impact of that. And so any advice that you can give will be really great.
Renita White 13:17
You know, I think, because of the positions people may hold at times, and you might be a student at that time, you might be quivering your boots, because you’re like, “Oh, my God, they’re not going to want to talk to me, I’m not that important.” But when people are in positions or roles of influence and opportunity, oftentimes from my experiences, they want to reach back and pull somebody else forward, or give some type of mentorship or counseling. Even if it’s just a word or a recommendation for a book to read.
So having the opportunity to even speak to her at various times, you know, thinking that the hospital administrator was too busy to speak to me, and she took as much time as, as I needed. And she learned about me at the same time. That showed me a lot. It showed me a lot as far as people and just having that opportunity. So it’s it’s very insightful to be able to have that opportunity to go back and give to someone else because someone else did the same for me.
Aisha El-Amin 14:22
That’s right. That’s absolutely right. So in your journey, I know the there was some you know, like all of our journeys, there’s some bumps in the road. And sometimes, you know, we have self-doubt and not knowing if we can do it and what are the things that you have utilized to help you get past those rocky roads or kind of that self doubt because you’ve transitioned in waves I mean, from a PFC to a major from a you know, like, that’s, that’s like Yes. So you’ve been able to transition through these different spaces and be successful successful despite the bumps. So, what advice do you give?
Renita White 15:03
You know, I have a very, I’m very centered in my faith, and my spiritual base. I have amazing friends and support groups that always encouraged me. And I think it is very important to have that, especially when you are faced with adversity upon various levels, whether it’s the color of your skin, or your gender. It’s oftentimes you meet that road where it’s, it’s very difficult, and you always want to create a lasting impression to make an impact, to be able to be of influence in the most positive light. So I’m just grateful for that support base and being true to what my initial goals are, and pushing forward. I’m grateful for the persistence God blessed me with because that just keeps me going and go a little bit further. And even though I’m all nervous and anxious, like, “Oh, my God, I’m not gonna pick or choose me, but I gotta try.” You always just gotta go ahead and give it a try. And you never know, like I said, when you knock the door open.
Aisha El-Amin 16:12
Now, when you think back at your time as a student at UIC, what are some of your fondest memories and places or you know, things that happened?
Renita White 16:23
That is so funny. I was never the one in the Inner Circle. Because I was with the College of Applied Health Sciences, it was a lot different. One of the instructors that stood out to me the most is Dr. Sadler. He was amazing and how he provided his words of wisdom and knowledge as far as like understanding the science behind the movement and exercise and what it does for your body. So it enhanced my desire to learn more. So that was very beneficial for me. Some people was like, “Oh, so you don’t be a gym? Instructor?” “No.” And even if I wanted to be just a gym instructor, it’s not just a gym instructor.
There’s just so much now when when you look at the big picture, who do you need now? You need some exercise physiologists, you need some gym instructors, because the main, the main culprit right now is obesity. But they’ll pay for hypertension, they pay for diabetes, cancer, and all these things. But the one thing that leads to and increases our risk for all of those conditions that they pay for is obesity, the weight. So the insurance companies haven’t tapped into actually fixing that for the patient, they’ll wait till we get to the disease process. And then it just spirals and dominoes downhill at that point. So now we see a trend toward let’s eat healthier. Let’s move more. And hopefully insurance companies will do what’s necessary for preventive and a different aspect. We can do the preventive medicine with shots and all of that. But let’s do it in the way of mindfulness and our mentality and our physical being. So it’s interesting and pulling all the pieces together is just something to definitely think about, and tap into.
So yes, my fondest memories at UIC. Getting through everything, definitely. I worked hard. I definitely worked hard. I would work 40 hours in the operating room where I worked on Tuesdays and Thursdays and on the weekends. And then I was in school the rest of the week.
Aisha El-Amin 18:43
Renita White 18:44
And but it was it was fun for me. I’m that kind of nerd. So, it was fun for me. So, through all of that I have truly appreciated all the support that I’ve gotten. My director of surgical service then, I remember getting a call when I actually got called up for military. And I was in a room with one of the doctors who was definitely sometimes a challenge to work with. And they’re like, “Renita the military’s on the phone.” I said, “Tell them I’ll call them back. Don’t you see him standing right there?” He said, “Go answer the phone see what they say.” And we were getting called up for a mission. And actually, after I got off the phone, I broke scrub and everybody’s standing outside the door crying. I’m like, “I’m not dying. Yeah, I’ll be back.”
Aisha El-Amin 19:40
But I think that speaks to who you are too. Right? And the impact you make with your colleagues in that space, right? I could just imagine the emotion. In that space after you received that…
Renita White 19:54
Well, I ended up coming back and had the opportunity as a reservist. Not everybody does their jobs. So we had 13 surgical techs, and out of those 13 three of us, including myself, worked as a surgical tech. So they hired about five of those surgical techs to work at UIC, which UIC has amazing benefits and offers a lot of people a lot of different opportunities. So that was great to be able to have an impact in a different way as well. Teaching, reteaching, I’m not gonna say they didn’t know, but when you don’t use it, you lose it. So we we reincorporated that memory, that muscle memory of being a surgical tech and they got it and got hungry and wanting to do it every day. And at UIC, they accepted quite a few of my soldiers to work there on a full time basis who have done many other amazing things as well: become nurses and expanded in their career.
Aisha El-Amin 20:48
That’s awesome. So you are with Mile Square right?
Renita White 20:52
I am at Mile Square. Yes. I will be transferring over to…I’m sorry.
Aisha El-Amin 20:58
No, I’m sorry. Go ahead.
Renita White 21:00
I’ll be transferred over to Auburn Gresham, the newest clinic that’s going to be opening soon. It’s gonna be an intermediate care in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood on like 79th and Halsted very shortly.
Aisha El-Amin 21:11
That’s excellent. So can you tell our audience what Mile Square is.
Renita White 21:16
Mile Square is a federally qualified health center. Mile Square serves, basically, we have an urgent care here at the main at the main site. And we also have family medicine upstairs on the second floor. So we service a lot of patients, and it’s either patients with or without insurance. Our urgent care services everyone. And then our clinic, our family medicine, clinic services everyone as well. We have amazing services here. We do addiction medicine for anyone in the community that space. They have amazing resources for just about anyone who just could need or require anything. So once they get here, once the patient gets here, if there’s something that there is a need for they have amazing social workers, nurse midwives, we have infectious disease here as well, and pediatric. So Mile Square is a great resource to the community. And it has various sites. So you got Back of the Yards, just to name a few. There’s Humboldt Park, and Englewood just to name a few, South Shore. So Mile Square has definitely branched out in different ways and helps the community in ways far beyond other’s reach. So it’s a very warming to work in an environment that puts back into the community for people who need anything at any place and stage or point of their life.
Aisha El-Amin 22:44
Yes, I appreciate UI Health at Mile Square and all the work that you all do. So I had to make sure that people were aware of that work, if they are already are not benefiting from it because I know quite a few are. In our in our last moments together. I want to thank you. I’ve learned from you resilience. I’ve learned about leadership. I’ve learned about all the people that could impact your life, just in one encounter. And I appreciate you being part of UIC’s legacy of Black excellence and sharing your story with us on this podcast today. Thank you.
Renita White 23:20
Tariq El-Amin 23:23
Thanks for joining us. Find more inspiring and informative conversations with UIC alum, faculty and staff at blackresources.uic.edu. That’s blackresources.uic.edu.