Celebrating Black History Month: An Interview with Dr. Jennifer Caudle

Published February 21, 2023

Inside OME

This Black History Month, AACOM interviewed Dr. Jennifer Caudle, a board-certified family medicine physician and Rowan-Virtua School of Osteopathic Medicine associate family medicine professor, about her impressive background, talents and passions, and how to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in medical education.


The answers below have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: As a teacher, cellist, physician, media maven and beauty queen, you are a true renaissance woman! What’s your secret to success?

Dr. Caudle: The first thing I would say is that I don’t consider myself a success, but a work in progress. Setting new goals has always kept me moving forward and has been key to an interesting life. It's also the reason I'm a family doctor. Every patient I see has a different medical condition, and I value diversity and difference in my life. I also give a lot of credit to my supportive family. My parents, my brother, my sister-in-law and my nieces are very, very supportive. Faith is important to me as well, and I feel very grateful.

Q: Did you always know you wanted to be a doctor, and why did you choose DO?

Dr. Caudle: I wanted to become a doctor since I was very young. I grew up in Iowa and my family doctor was an African American osteopathic physician. I didn't know what DOs were back then, but I did know that Dr. Johnson would come to our house, sometimes in the middle of the night when my brother was having asthma attacks, and he seemed like a savior. He’d bring his black medicine bag and work magic. Even in college, I could call him with medical questions, and I'll never forget that. It was important to me that he was an African American physician, and he really encouraged me to go into medicine. Because I didn’t realize he was an osteopathic physician (he went to PCOM), I didn't always know I wanted to be a DO. I went to Princeton, and when I was applying to medical schools, I was only told about MD schools. I remember being at home filling out applications, because I applied after graduating college, and my mother said, “Hey, are you going to apply to osteopathic schools?” I said, “What’s an osteopathic physician? Is that a bone doctor?” Common mistake, right? And she said, “No, I don't think so. Dr. Johnson was an osteopathic physician.” I called AACOM, this was 20 something years ago, when the Internet was very, very new, to learn about osteopathic medicine and I fell in love. I only applied to DO schools, I didn't apply to MD schools, because I realized this is where I wanted to be. Choosing DO made sense for me.

Q: People can find you on every social media channel. Do you have a favorite follower interaction or campaign?

Dr. Caudle: What's interesting is that I have different types of followers across different platforms. On Facebook, many are the age of my patients, between 35 to 70 or 75, whereas on Instagram, I have a lot of doctor, med school and pre-med followers. On TikTok, I get a variety of people, all ages. My YouTube followers are a bit younger, and Twitter tends to be my news crowd. I've learned what to expect across different platforms and what my audiences want to hear about. My followers teach me a lot too. They always keep me on my toes.

Q: What inspired you to lecture nationally on opioid prescribing and childhood bullying?

Dr. Caudle: My opioid lectures were part of a CORE-REMS program aimed at disseminating standardized lectures and evidence-based materials to audiences throughout the country. The experience was very meaningful and valuable to me as someone who saw, as a medical student and early resident, a major climb in opioid use and prescribing, and later, the medical community’s response.

I started lecturing on bullying after I became Miss Iowa and competed in the Miss America Pageant. I entered Miss America because I needed scholarship money to help pay for college and did my first pageant when I was 20 years old. I wasn't a pageant girl, but four pageants later I ended up at Miss America as Miss Iowa 1999, which was a blessing for so many reasons. It introduced me to TV and media and gave me scholarship money to help pay for med school. As a second- or third-year medical student, maybe three or four years after my Miss Iowa reign, the current Miss America’s platform was bullying. An elementary school near my medical school in New Jersey, was trying to get Miss America to come speak, but they couldn’t afford her. They heard through the grapevine that there was this “Miss Has Been” and asked if I would come lecture. At the time, I hadn’t ever talked about bullying, but I did a lot of research and put together a presentation for the elementary school kids and that became the first of hundreds of elementary school talks I gave. It became a passion project of mine throughout medical school and residency. I eventually published a paper in the Osteopathic Family Practice journal on how physicians can evaluate and help children who are involved in bullying.

Q: What’s one thing Rowan-Virtua SOM is doing well that other COMs could learn from?

Dr. Caudle: I say this not to be diplomatic, but I'm so proud of our osteopathic community and I'm so proud to be a DO physician. I love us. I love what we do. I love how we do it, and there are so many amazing schools doing amazing things. My Rowan-Virtua attendings, many of whom are now my colleagues in the Family Medicine Department, helped me become who I am. When I was a medical student interested in medical journalism, and when I was a resident starting to write for local papers, they helped proofread my articles. They gave me advice. They talked me through TV segments. They helped, guided and encouraged me, and never discouraged my dreams, as unconventional and unusual as they probably seemed at the time. I am forever indebted to my Rowan-Virtua mentors and colleagues. It's kept me coming back, so to speak, and it's one of the reasons why I'll never leave. A place, a person, a family and a group that allows you to be who you are is a gift from above. Feeling supported beyond my wildest dreams has been amazing for me, and I know that’s happening at COMs across the country, too.

Q: How do you plan to celebrate Black History Month?

Dr. Caudle: I'd like to think I celebrate Black History Month every month as a Black woman, but I have been doing a couple of things on social media. I've created little vignettes highlighting Black pioneers in medicine, science and beyond to share the accolades and attributes of those who have come before me as well as my contemporaries. It's inspiring to hear about the amazing things other Black physicians are doing and I hope to educate others. That's a small thing. A larger issue in this country, at least at this moment in time, is the current conversation about what education and history should be taught. As a Black physician, I believe in the importance of understanding all our histories—Black history, white history, Native American history, immigrant history, Chinese history—the list is as long as the people we have in this country. All our histories are valuable and important, and I believe in that. This particular Black History Month, doing these vignettes is my way of reminding everyone about the importance of our history and playing a small role in this conversation.

Q: What advice would you share with students from the Black community who are interested in medicine?

Dr. Caudle: Don't be discouraged. I remember what it was like going through the application process. I had a lot of doubts about whether I would make it, whether I would get in, whether my grades were good enough, whether my MCAT scores were high enough, and ultimately, whether I was enough. Those feelings weren’t necessarily because I'm Black, but there are certainly fewer African American professionals in the medical field. We don't always have the same opportunities. They’ve been affected and altered by systemic and institutionalized racism. That's a fact. So, for pre-meds, don't be discouraged if you know medicine is your passion. Pursue what you believe in. Keep going and keep trying and know that you're enough. In terms of medical students and residents, stay the course. Reach out for help and assistance. This advice could and does apply to everyone. Reach out to mentors, to the people who are above and below you, who are good for you and who help support you. Develop a support system and talk about how you're feeling. Something that I'm really grateful for is the larger conversation we’re having about mental health. Thank God for that. You don't have to suffer in silence if suffering is something you're experiencing. Utilize the tools you have and know that you're needed. We need you. Keep going and you’ll get there.

AACOM thanks Dr. Caudle for sharing her valuable advice and perspective, and for helping us recognize and celebrate Black History Month.

Looking for more ways to honor Black history this February and beyond? Browse our Black History Month reading list and connect with us on Instagram, where students, residents and faculty leaders are sharing their voices, knowledge and stories.