How ΦBK Has Helped Me: Dr. Jean Gispen

By Allen Brewer

For Dr. Jean Gispen, membership in Phi Beta Kappa has been a key to unlocking the doors to her career. From gaining acceptance into Duke University School of Medicine to applying for her rheumatology fellowship at the University of Alabama, Gispen found that membership in ΦBK acted as a stamp of approval.

Gispen remembers attending a tea party celebrating new ΦBK members at Radcliffe College in 1974. Then a pre-med junior majoring in engineering and applied physics, Gispen had chosen the book she was to receive as her induction gift. Other students selected books related to their majors or upcoming careers, but she chose a copy of The Best of Life: 37 Years of Pictures

“I was embarrassed at the time, but today I still look at it, and it still gives me great pleasure,” Gispen said.

While her choice of book did not reflect her career choice, those brilliant black-and-white photos did reflect some of Gispen’s interests outside medicine.

“I didn’t grow up thinking I would be a doctor, but because I came from a family of doctors, medicine was the career that I saw,” Gispen said. (Her paternal grandfather, father, a maternal uncle, a paternal uncle, four older brothers, an older sister, and four younger brothers are or were physicians also.) “My father was an academician who taught physiology. He lectured, he did research, he traveled widely, and he was home at night and on weekends. The way my father practiced medicine was very attractive to me.”  

Gispen credits her membership in ΦBK for a swift acceptance to Duke University  School of Medicine. After graduating from Duke, Gispen went to Vanderbilt for an internship and residency in internal medicine. She later attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham for a rheumatology fellowship, then joined a private practice in Nashville. When she married a tenure-track historian at the University of Mississippi, she left Nashville and joined Internal Medicine Associates in Oxford, Mississippi.

“Being a member of Phi Beta Kappa really made my whole career after college easier,” Gispen said. “It was a stamp of approval that I was smart enough and that I was willing to work hard. It also showed that I was a well-rounded individual who was capable of learning on the job.” 

After 21 years of private practice, Gispen joined the staff of the University of Mississippi in 2005 at the Employee Health Service. While her career has been nonacademic, Gispen has remained involved with ΦBK at the University of Mississippi and acted as the chapter president from 2009 to 2011.

In 2007, Gispen spoke to the new Phi Beta Kappa inductees at the University of Mississippi, on behalf of her deceased father Dr. Arthur C. Guyton, a founding member of the chapter.  

“I believe that exercising the mind broadly benefits the mind just as exercising the entire body makes a better athlete,” Gispen said to the inductees and their friends and families. “I hypothesize that mental cross-training stimulates disparate areas within the brain, that stimulation leads to healthier brain cells through better blood flow, and that this leads to more agile thinking. I hypothesize that we know the best cross-training regimen for the brain, and it is called aerobic exercise and a liberal arts education.” 

Allen Brewer is a junior at the University of Mississippi majoring in journalism. The University of Mississippi is home to the Beta of Mississippi Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.