Internal Medicine Physician and Pediatrician James Polek, MD, has let his experiences shape him. A volunteer trip to Kenya as a medical student opened his eyes to the importance of patient advocacy and equal access to health care, as he cared for patients who later died from preventable diseases.
Dr. Polek is new to the SBL Family Medical Center in Mattoon and welcomes patients to his new practice.
As a medical resident, Dr. Polek worked in a “red-line zone” where he treated countless patients who hadn’t seen a physician in decades. Deep poverty and quality food scarcity led to diseases that could otherwise have been prevented through routine medical care and healthy eating. Dr. Polek conducted his residency in food-insecure areas, as well.
“I had to get creative in finding ways to help those patients get less expensive medicines and in guiding them toward social services. Trying to find that partnership with patients and meet their needs is extremely important to me,” Dr. Polek
“I really like the broad pathology and diseases that we can treat in internal medicine. It’s a mix of neurology, cardiology, pulmonology and gastroenterology,” Dr. Polek said. “Practicing in internal medicine can sometimes be a puzzle, but being a good listener helps immensely. It’s very rewarding when I’m able to help patients.”
Dr. Polek grew up in Rockford and attended medical school at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Peoria. After medical school, he completed residencies at the University of Kentucky Medical Center in both internal medicine and pediatrics. His interest in science began as a child by reading Charlie Brown encyclopedias. But his grandmother’s lymphoma diagnosis drove him toward medicine.
“I was 15 years old at the time and didn’t understand the diagnosis. I thought the lymphoma could be treated with antibiotics. Unfortunately, she died within three months– the cancer was advanced and had been undetected. That’s why I like to focus on the preventive side of medicine,” Dr. Polek explained.
As an internist and pediatrician, Dr. Polek can treat a wide range of diseases, from nerve pain to diabetes to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to sinus infections, in patients of any age.
“It’s very important to follow children in their development to ensure that they receive the proper vaccinations, diets and physicals as they grow. Understanding pediatric diseases also helps me understand adults who faced those challenges as children. I believe in treating the whole family, and sometimes it is easier to treat children and parents when they are in the same room,” Dr. Polek stated.
Dr. Polek is excited to return to his Illinois roots, especially at a large, rural health system like Sarah Bush Lincoln.
“Honestly, I just fell in love with the place. When I visited, everyone I encountered seemed very invested in the Health System. I immediately understood that Sarah Bush Lincoln serves the community and takes that seriously,” Dr. Polek said.
In his free time, Dr. Polek enjoys hiking, gardening and cooking unique ethnic dishes. “I’m a microbiologist by trade, so I have my own cultures to make sourdough bread,” Dr. Polek said.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Polek, call the SBL Family Medical Center in Mattoon at 217 234-7000. It is located at 200 Richmond Ave E.