Faces of the Forest Service

Meet Jennifer Symonds

Office of Communication
July 11th, 2016 at 9:00AM

A photo of Dr. Jennifer Symonds reviews medical exams at her office at the National Interagency Fire Center, Boise, Idaho.
Dr. Jennifer Symonds reviews medical exams at her office at the National Interagency Fire Center, Boise, Idaho. (Photo Credit/Symonds family photos)

Jennifer Symonds, D.O., is the U.S. Forest Service’s first and only medical doctor. She is on the Fire and Aviation Management staff stationed at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. Dr. Symonds loves working with firefighters. Her duties include medical screening of fire staff as well as working on teams including short haul for fire, implementing an EMS program, creating an electronic medical records system, and creating a Wildland Firefighter LifeSaver Course based on the Army’s Combat Lifesaver Course.

When Jennifer’s not focused on fire personnel, she’s at home spending time with her family. They like to watch movies, cook, and plan out their annual summer and winter vacations. She also enjoys working outside gardening and loves music. This self-proclaimed music snob says she loves all type of genres, classical to bluegrass to rock, but she can’t get enough of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble and Harry Connick Jr.

Why did you become a doctor? What did you study?

My dad and TV medical shows like Marcus Welby M.D. paved the way for me. It was a popular show in the 70s. Anyone that goes into medicine feels a purpose in helping others. I think the TV shows like Marcus Welby re-enforced that feeling. The TV show Emergency! was the biggest influence into my desire to go into the Urgent Care field. I liked that you could help someone with an urgent medical problem and treat it knowing that it would be fixed.

Being a doctor is something that I’ve always wanted to do. I wanted to be like my dad; he is a retired anesthesiologist. I always saw him as this doctor going to the hospital to help people.   I’ve been a doctor for 22 years now. I graduated from Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine. With my designation of Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.), a lot of people tend to think I’m a dentist or orthopedist.

I’m curious, how did you become the agency’s first medical doctor?

Fire and Aviation Management was trying to figure out how to medically screen their employees. Previously, the Forest Service invested heavily in contractors who weren’t working out as smoothly as we needed. Forest Service leadership came to the conclusion it was better to hire someone full time.

At the same time, I was looking for a change from what I was doing. I found the job announcement and applied. I’ve been working for the Forest Service for three and half years.

I really enjoy working with our firefighters–especially when I can talk to the crews. The work provides a personal connection and the crews can ask me questions about medical issues in confidence. The biggest part of my job is that ground level buy-in. My job is to bring everyone home safe each day whether by medical screening or medical education. I hope to help with teaching the Lifesaver Course locally to keep that ground contact.

Who has been a major influence in your life?

I would say, my parents. My mom because of her faith and my dad’s personality has carried with me. I went to Catholic school all the way through high school. Growing up, my mom was the organist and vocalist at church which had a direct impact because now I sing for my church choir.  I also sing in the Boise Women’s Chorus.

My dad is the strong silent type and only talks when he has something important to say. I’m definitely an introvert and don’t tend to say much unless I see the need to interject, but am working on being more outgoing and vocal. 

A photo of Jennifer Symonds, doing one of the things she loves, cooking dinner for her family.
Jennifer Symonds, doing one of the things she loves, cooking dinner for her family. (Photo Credit/Symonds family photos)

Your work is quite serious, I’m interested to know what’s on your bucketlist?

If I had time, I would love to travel to Europe. I wouldn’t want to do the tourist traps. I would like to visit places like Italy, Turkey, Spain, Germany, Czech Republic and Slovakia. Visiting their local cafes, tasting their food and wines while driving the country side would be a real treat for me.

This might sound random, but I would also like to take classes at Boise State University, just to learn, not for credit or a grade. Maybe even take a Tai Chi lesson.

To wrap the interview up on a fun note, what is something that a lot of people don’t know about you by looking at you?

There’s actually two big things. First, I have to admit that I’m a foodie but I’m not a food snob. I love to cook and have over 25 cookbooks. My cookbooks range from Mexican to Italian to Slovakian. I even subscribe to the Food Network Magazine. I’m the type of cook who will learn the recipe first and then change it up by the second time. When I have time, I can spaghetti sauce, beets, green beans, and freeze carrots, and squash. My husband pickles jalapeños. My favorite dish to make is bean and corn salad.

The second thing that people find interesting when I tell them is that my husband and I raise meat goats on our 10 acres. Our herd consists of ten does, 1 wether, and 10 kids.