Dr. Jessica Benjamin has been a physician at SHIFT since 2022. Prior to SHIFT, she served as lead physician at Advocate Medical Group in Chicago, helping build that practice since its inception. Dr. Benjamin has a special interest in women’s health and specific challenges and needs that women of all ages face. She is also a mother to three young kids and loves exploring and traveling with her family.
Welcome, Dr. Benjamin, and thanks for taking time today to chat with us about some of your philosophies, background, and why you chose to work at SHIFT. Let’s start with the basics. Why did you decide to become a doctor?
I grew up with both parents in the medical field, so I had exposure from a young age to the profession. I’ve also always been fascinated by how the human body works, so I took an early interest in it. Medicine was sort of the perfect blend of my interest in science and physiology and my desire to care for and connect with people in a meaningful way and make a difference in their lives.
Tell me a little bit about your background previously and what led you to SHIFT.
I started almost exactly a year ago here at SHIFT, and prior to that, I worked in a traditional outpatient, primary care practice, as you said, with Advocate Medical Group in Wicker Park in Chicago. I have known Ari for a number of years, and I remember speaking with him about SHIFT when it was still in its infancy. And I guess it’s sort of always been on my radar until more recently when I reached out to him to learn more about it. I’ve been practicing traditional primary care in a larger health system since I started over a decade ago, and the idea of making a change and doing things differently was certainly exciting. And, as I learned more about SHIFT, I realized that this is a place I could really thrive in connecting more deeply with patients and really, truly making an impact.
Once you started to hear a little bit about SHIFT, you became a bit more intrigued. What made you finally make the decision to work here?
One of the first things that really struck me about SHIFT was the collaborative team approach and the passion and expertise of the entire clinical team and I really wanted to be a part of that. The genuine interest and care for each of the Members was evident and honestly refreshing, and I felt excited about the impact I could make as well.
Coming from a more traditional medical background, what are some of the specific differences that you see at SHIFT?
I would say probably the most obvious difference from a traditional primary care practice is just the sheer volume of patient load and the time allotted to care for each individual. In large health systems there’s typically a heavy push toward getting more people in the door every day and my time with each patient was honestly very limited. At SHIFT, the pace is much slower, allowing for ample time to really get to know each Member in much greater depth, allowing for closer relationships which guides better individualized care. Our greater availability and ease of communication also allows for convenience and attention when needed and really helps everyone feel more connected and in tune.
The other, I think, difference between SHIFT and some traditional primary care practices is that in most primary care practices there is a focus on what we call “reactive medicine.” So, of course, you’re going to have your regular annual physicals and making sure vaccines and cancer screenings are up to date from a preventive standpoint. But much of the typical practice of medicine is addressing issues and symptoms as they arise. While we obviously do these things as well at SHIFT, we also place a lot of emphasis on proactive medicine. We’re focusing on things that our Members can do now to reduce their risks and prevent disease and disability in the future.
We talk a lot about the specifics of lifestyle changes from incorporating various exercise modalities and balanced nutrition that fits in with the individual’s specific needs and preferences to stress reduction and sleep optimization. And I think one of the additional factors that sort of makes things different is that we do have expert dietitians and physical therapists as part of our team, and they’re seeing every single member to provide guidance and insights and not just those who might obviously need intervention.
You talked a little bit about that patient relationship. Why is that so important?
As I said before, we spend a lot of time getting to know our Members. We’re not just focusing on their medical problems and symptoms, but also the ins and outs of their lives. What was their childhood like? What do their family dynamics look like? What are the personal and work stressors and goals for their health? …and so on. No two individuals are the same, and health and wellbeing is influenced by so many different aspects of life. In our approach, we can more completely tackle those root causes of and risk factors for impaired health and help guide people toward their health goals. In building these relationships, our Members then feel more connected and recognize that we’re their ally. Together we work to build their health.
Honestly, I find this very fulfilling for me, and I like to think it is for the Members as well.
You’ve been with SHIFT for about a year now. What has surprised you about the team or the practice in general?
I’d say what surprised me most is probably how every team member is constantly working to learn and grow and adjust and better themselves and their practice. We collaborate in ways that I haven’t really ever seen before, and we learn from each other pretty regularly. There are really no elements of complacency at SHIFT, and we’re all constantly striving for continual improvement in the work that we do.
And how have you seen your own practice evolve in the last year that you’ve been with SHIFT?
I’ve certainly grown in many ways. There’s definitely been a lot of learning. I had to learn about the advanced assessment tools that I was not previously very familiar with, like our body composition scans and VO2 max testing. I’ve learned a lot of specifics about nutrition and exercise and stress management, those things that I didn’t really have a deep understanding of or application for, but I think even more than that, I’ve developed a better ability to see the whole picture and take everything into context when caring for people. Rather than cookie cutter, by the book advice and interventions, I feel like I can more effectively meet people where they are and address health care in a much more individualized way.
Who is somebody you think could really benefit from this type of health care?
I think that anyone who cares about their health would benefit from this sort of individualized care. This means when you say, “care about your health,” either that’s maintaining your current state and wanting to stay healthy, functional, and active and do the things that you want to do or people who want to make changes to better their lives and their health. Overall, I think that the access to real-time information and guidance and the full team expertise can really benefit anybody to that extent. Our Members come to us at all different stages in their lives and for different reasons. Some are going to have more medical needs, and some are going to need more emotional support.
And again, some just want to make sure that they’re doing everything that they can to optimize their health and longevity and do the best that they can. I really think that everyone has something to gain by our approach and care model. Everyone’s going to have different goals and different things that they’re working toward and striving for. So, again, we just want to meet people where they are and help them in that process.
What’s your best piece of advice to someone starting their own health journey?
It all really comes down to priorities and consistency. We get one life to live, and we have one body to do it in, so we really need to make our health a priority and continue to focus on it and stay consistent in our work toward building it. It’s not a given and it’s not easy, but with small habit changes and consistent effort, we really can steer the course of our lives and work toward living more fully and functionally. One of the things that I have really latched onto in working at SHIFT is we like to say we are focused on not only surviving, but also thriving. And I think with work, dedication, and effort toward it, we all can work toward thriving in our lives. We’re all human. No one’s going to be perfect, and that’s not what anyone is really ever looking for. But it’s really just a matter of continuing to change and grow and stay consistent in that dedication.
That’s great. Anything you would like to add?
I’ve just really been honored to work here. I think it’s been everything that I had hoped for when I first started out, and I look forward to continuing the practice and getting to know people well.
Thank you, Dr. Benjamin