Where Are They Now? Meet 2001 Prairie Grad Dr. Philip Chen

What year did you graduate Prairie High School?
2001

What activities were you involved in at Prairie?
Band, jazz band, tennis, National Honor Society, quality council

What is your current position?
Clinical Assistant Professor
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation physician

Where is your place of employment?
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics
Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation

What are your job responsibilities?
A physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, or physiatrist, specializes in various neurological or musculoskeletal conditions, often resulting in some type of disability. We are doctors of “function.”  My special area of interest is spinal cord injury, but I see many different conditions. I see patients admitted to the hospital and in clinics, and also teach medical students and participate in some research.  I work closely with other health care providers, like therapists, surgeons, psychologists, and social workers, to help people with complex diseases/injuries live life as independently and meaningfully as possible.

Describe your career/educational path since.
After high school, I went to Washington University in St. Louis for a BA in biology. After college I did a one year program in Americorps NCCC, traveling the southeast US doing service projects with a team.  Then I completed medical school at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.  I headed to the University of Michigan for residency training in PM&R.  After working for one year at the University of Iowa, I went back to the University of Michigan to do a spinal cord injury fellowship. Finally done with training and moving, I headed back to Iowa in 2017 to settle down and begin a career at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

What advice would you give to today’s high school graduates? 
Don’t be afraid to take a “non-traditional” route in your education.  Doing AmeriCorps for one year was probably the best decision I made, and maybe the most influential time of my life.  It helped me build skills you don’t learn in school, helped me gain a wider perspective on the world, and gave me a group of lifelong friends.  It doesn’t have to be AmeriCorps, but sometimes throwing a wrinkle in your “life plan” can be good.  

And don’t be afraid to fail.  You have to fail to gain experience, and experience is what makes you an expert.  At the same time, don’t expect someone to hold your hand or lift you out of those challenges.  You won’t always get what you deserve, and nothing will replace your own perseverance, resilience and hard work.  I believe success comes from the right combination of hard work and adaptability.

Anything else you would like to add?
I’m so glad to be back in Iowa and Hawkeye land with my wife and 2 young kids.  It’s a great place to raise a family and I’m grateful our little ones get to see their extended family so often.  Prairie will always have a special place in our family’s heart, particularly for the wide influence and connections that my mom had during her long career there.  Go Hawks!