“Rural Michigan would be great,” said Owens, a Michigan State University College of Human Medicine graduate. “That’s always been the goal. It would be really cool to go to a community for my two-year commitment and then, theoretically, stay because that’s what I’ve wanted to do the whole time, serve in an area where I’m needed.”
Owens grew up in tiny Hope, Mich., raising and showing steers and sheep in 4-H, and she is eager to return to her rural roots.
“People always joke about patients coming up to you in the grocery store and saying, ‘Look at this rash. What should I do with this?’” she said. “A lot of my classmates in med school were like, ‘Oh, I want anonymity.’ I don’t want that at all. For me, I love the small-town feeling of somebody asking me a question like that. I like that people know who you are, and they respect your opinions. They invite you into their families and their lives. It’s a really sacred thing.”
Owens is a member of the AAFP’s Commission on Quality and Practice and previously served as a family medicine interest group regional coordinator. She also has served in multiple leaderships roles in the Michigan and Minnesota state chapters as a student and resident.
She hopes to continue her leadership path in rural practice.
“The people that I work with and work for are going to be represented on a broader stage, and I think that’s really amazing,” she said. “Rural America maybe hasn’t had that as much, but there are some super strong leaders coming out of rural areas. That’s a growing trend, and I am really excited to be part of that. Being involved in these things, I’m able to advocate for other people and get other people excited and interested in things. It lights my fire when I’m tired. It’s good for my soul, meeting really good people who have a lot in common with me. The rural stuff feeds me, and it’s cool because I feel like I’m getting so close to what I set out to do.”
As an undergraduate at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., Owens participated in a rural premedical internship program through Michigan State. Owens said that program was “pivotal” in her development because it helped her achieve the shadowing hours needed to apply for med school. As a medical student, she later participated in Michigan State’s rural community health program, which included more shadowing, as well as rural medicine seminars and community service work.
Owens’ early shadowing experiences included working with Kevin Denlinger, D.O., a family physician in Houghton Lake, Mich.
“I’ll never forget that he described diabetes as ‘a fun disease process,’ and that has always stuck with me because it’s so challenging,” she said. “Now that I’m in residency, I think, ‘Oh, my gosh. He thought this was fun?’ But it’s served as a good reminder to find the fun in the medicine. There are times when I can see why he might have found managing it fun because it is complex, but you can make really remarkable changes when people are committed and you feel comfortable, knowing that you can help.”