Early on, Susan Beck thought she would become a dentist like her father. 

“I was going to follow in his footsteps,” recalled the Des Moines native, who had already been accepted to dental school when she decided at the last minute to apply to the University of Osteopathic Medicine and Health Sciences (now Des Moines University). 

Her decision to take the less-comfortable path would lead to a rewarding career as a surgeon, at a time when female surgeons were still a rarity.  

“There were just not very women in surgery when I got done with medical school in 1984,” Beck said. “I was really drawn to it. I’m really fortunate to have been born in America where I had all those opportunities available to me, and to be born at a time when I could be a surgeon. Some people call it luck; I think it’s by design from the one who’s given me the gifts to use.” 

As a surgeon who deals with cancer patients daily, Beck leans on her Christian faith to deal with the constant ups and downs of her profession. 

“Our struggles are not put there because of an unloving God, but it is for us what He calls a refining fire,” she said. “It’s not to destroy us but to make us better. Because we never know what experiences we live through may help someone else.” 

She believes in being there emotionally for her patients, though it’s not always the easiest thing to do personally. 

“People are hurting, and they really don’t need you to be in self-protective mode; they need you to be there for them,” Beck said. “They need you to be empathetic and compassionate; they need you to let them in.”

Her passion for healing has also taken her overseas. Through her church, she has made six medical mission trips to India, where she said she has learned far more from the poorest of the poor than she has ever been able to provide to them. 

“They would give you the shirt off their backs, and they never complain,” she said. “They don’t throw anything away. Anything they can use to make life better, they do.” 

Beck is currently working toward a master of public health degree, which could lead to a next chapter in her life working overseas.

“I don’t know what the Lord has in store for me, but I want to be prepared,” she said. “It is obviously a calling he has stirred up inside, but I know that I need to have the right credentials behind my name. And I need to have a better understanding of processes in other countries so that you don’t go with your good intentions and hurt someone.”

Three areas of influence

She has touched the lives of hundreds of women with her compassionate care. 

At the age of 56, she trained for and completed two half-marathons. 

She has completed six medical mission trips to India and is pursuing more education to provide further assistance.