By Erin Garrett
University of Mississippi
Dr. Jean Gispen always makes time for her patients. She sits them down, walks them through their diagnosis and answers their questions in detail. That care and concern is what she is known for as a staff physician at the University of Mississippi’s Employee Health Service.
After her retirement on July 1, however, she’ll spend her time a little differently.
“The first day, I’m probably going to be poolside with a book,” Gispen said. “In July and August, I’ll be home gardening and hanging out. I grow tomatoes, arugula, peppers and blackberries.”
Gispen joined the university staff in the fall of 2005. She was the Employee Health Service’s first physician and was instrumental in building the department. Her departure will be felt at all levels of the university.
“Dr. Gispen has been an institutional treasure, and her dedication to the health of the employees in her care have shaped what the Employee Health Service is today,” said Noel Wilkin, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. “She deeply cared for her patients and the employees of this campus and her approach, guidance, expertise and honesty made her one of the most trusted health care professionals in Oxford.
“I can honestly say that the health of our employee population was improved by Dr. Gispen, and she will be greatly missed.”
Alex Langhart, director of University Health Services, echoed Wilkin’s sentiments.
“Dr. Gispen’s body of work over her long and storied career speaks for itself,” Langhart said. “She has provided care with love and expertise that have greatly benefited our faculty and staff. She has always upheld the highest quality of care and ethical standards.
“Dr. Gispen has built the reputation for our Employee Health Service to be one of trust, love and expert care.”
Born in Oxford, Gispen spent her childhood in Jackson. She was one of 10 siblings; her parents were cardiovascular physiologist Dr. Arthur Guyton and Ruth Weigle Guyton. Medicine ran in the family, though it was not the first choice for Gispen during her undergraduate years at Radcliffe (Harvard) College.
“I liked math and I actually taught a semester of math when I was in college, but didn’t enjoy teaching it,” she said. “I thought maybe computers would be it, but all my friends who were enthusiastic about computers – that’s all they wanted to do and I wasn’t like that.
“So I thought I would do the family career, which was medicine. I had taken all the pre-medicine courses as a backup.”
She graduated from Duke University School of Medicine in 1979. She then completed a residency in internal medicine at Vanderbilt University, followed by a rheumatology fellowship at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Gispen began practicing at Green Hills Medical Clinic in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1984. While there, she met her now-husband Kees Gispen, who was a tenure-track history professor at UM. They had a commuter courtship, then a commuter marriage before she moved to Oxford in 1986.
That same year, Gispen took a position at Internal Medicine Associates of Oxford. She practiced internal medicine and rheumatology there for nearly 20 years. By 2005, it was difficult to acquire malpractice insurance in Mississippi, which made private practice “overwhelming” for Gispen.
“I stopped my practice and decided I was going to take a sabbatical at home to decide what I wanted to do next,” she said. “It was clear almost right away that I wasn’t going to be happy staying home.
“Week number two, I was pulling elaeagnus vines, gardening like mad, cutting the grass – it just wasn’t where I needed to be. I spent most of that summer trying to figure out what I was going to do next.”
It wasn’t long before an opportunity arose at the university.
“My husband was walking across campus and ran into the university’s then-provost, Carolyn Staton,” Gispen said. “She told him that they were starting an employee health service. I called Barbara Collier, who was in charge, and said I wanted to apply.”
By the fall of 2005, Gispen was a staff physician at the Employee Health Service.
“There was no employee health clinic until I got here, so we basically set it up,” she said. “We were so new that we didn’t even have tables. I had a patient with abdominal pain and I had to examine her on the floor.”
Gispen was thankful for her new 8-to-5 schedule with weekends off, which allowed her to spend more time with her daughters, Fiona and Adrienne. She also appreciated seeing patients from all walks of life.
“You really see all parts of Ole Miss, and that’s fun,” she said. “I see landscapers and facilities management staff and custodians who are working these 3 a.m. to 11 a.m. shifts. Then I’m seeing faculty and administrators.
“I also like seeing people for whom English is not their primary language. We lived in Germany for about five months when my husband was teaching in an exchange program. It made me empathize with non-native speakers. And at the university, I can always find someone to translate if I can’t understand my patients’ English.”
Gispen ensures that her patients always leave with a thorough understanding of their medical condition.
“After I see people, I like to take them to my office and pull up an online medical textbook with articles about different health issues,” she said. “We sit there and go over the articles and discuss what they have. Then I email them a link to that article.
“That’s something that I have time to do here that I wouldn’t necessarily have had in private practice.”
During COVID, when the university was trying to navigate pandemic procedures and guidelines, Gispen was actively involved in educating the university community about the virus. She published encouraging and informational blog posts about topics such as testing, pandemic-related stress and the vaccine.
“At first, nobody really knew how to deal with the pandemic,” Gispen said. “What made it hard was trying to save ourselves and keep our patients safe and at the same time trying to keep a normal medicine practice going.
“That was a little stressful. But when I began writing blogs – that was fun. Then toward the end, once the whole idea of vaccination was politicized, it became more stressful again.
“People would ask your advice and the medical underpinnings for a recommendation, and then your advice would be ignored. That was frustrating at times.”
Kimberly Shaw, RN and staff nurse at the Employee Health Center, has worked with Gispen for 12 years.
“Dr. Gispen is a wonderful person and doctor,” Shaw said. “She is diligent to make sure that every patient gets the highest level of care. She is genuinely concerned about all of her patients. She is very smart and kind, and all of her co-workers and her patients will miss her very much.”
Langhart said that Gispen is “beloved by all her patients.”
“I am one of her patients, and I was blown away by her thoroughness,” he said. “She wants to get the full picture of your health and this pays dividends in the long run because she is so focused on preventative health intervention.”
Gispen’s retirement will “offer an incredible challenge to those who follow in her footsteps,” said Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, history professor and former dean of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.
“Our campus family has been fortunate to enjoy the services of one of the top physicians in the nation with Dr. Gispen,” Sullivan-Gonzalez said. “Dr. Gispen chose to work on campus out of her commitment to serve patients holistically.
“She takes time to listen deeply, develop trust and offers the highest possible quality of diagnosis and treatment. She has gifted us with a quality of life through her presence and performance as our campus physician. Our lives have been enriched with Dr. Gispen and we all wish her well.”
In coming months, Gispen will travel through Europe with her husband and friends – a long-planned trip that will hopefully be one of many. She said that she will look back fondly on her time at the university.
“There is a saying in Dutch about if you land in someplace that’s really good, and it happens serendipitously, you fall with your nose in the butter,” she said. “When I got this job, I fell with my nose in the butter.
“I was able to run the practice the way I needed it to be run, and that has been a delight.”