New program works to attract young physicians to serve Chicago’s South Side

Community Champions assist with a COVID-19 vaccine clinic on the South Side. (Jessica Long, MD, PGY4 Obstetrics and Gynecology (Graduated); Ruth Tangonan, MD, rising PGY4 Neurology; and Hasanga Samaraweera,MD, PGY4 Pediatrics (Graduated)

As Associate Dean for Graduate Medical Education (GME), Anita Blanchard, MD, helms a team that draws top talent to the resident and fellows programs at the University of Chicago Medicine on the Hyde Park campus, currently 1,000 participants strong.

While Blanchard celebrates this success, she laments the small number of graduates who ultimately go on to serve South Side communities like where she grew up. In 2020, of 330 graduates, 55 chose to practice in Chicago. And only eight decided to practice on the South Side, where scarcity of healthcare providers — particularly those of color — contributes to health disparities and affects health outcomes and life expectancies for predominantly Black and brown communities.

In February 2021, GME launched the Community Champions program to strengthen the connection between resident physicians and these underserved communities, providing participants with outreach and service opportunities. Thirty-three Community Champions were selected from 19 residency programs, including 21 people of color and 25 women.

The program is structured to leverage the robust community network and partnerships of UChicago Medicine’s Urban Health Initiative (UHI). Community Champions have mostly been deployed for COVID-19 vaccine outreach efforts organized by the UHI. They have served as panelists on virtual community meetings, guest hosts on a community health radio program, spokespersons for public service announcements, and even participants in a cooking demonstration.

Edwin McDonald, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Associate Director, Adult Clinical Nutrition, and Stephen Estime, MD, Assistant Professor of Anesthesia and Critical Care, are Faculty Directors of Diversity for GME and work with UHI to coordinate the Champions' efforts.

Several Community Champions volunteered to administer vaccines at a pop-up clinic serving the Roseland and Washington Heights communities. UChicago Medicine is working to overcome vaccine hesitancy and promote access and education in these South Side neighborhoods hard hit by the pandemic.

“It is rewarding to see the strong interest and participation in the program right from the start,” said Blanchard, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “The Community Champions are making meaningful and immediate contributions to South Side communities.”

Chidimma J. Acholonu, MD, MPH, a second-year pediatric resident, said she appreciates the opportunity to serve and learn beyond the medical campus.

“What makes residency at UChicago Medicine unique is the identity of the neighborhoods we serve — not just the need, but the rich history and unique potential to impact change,” Acholonu said. “The long hours of residency can make it hard to remember the humanity of the work that we do, but the Community Champions program has created a space where community engagement is more intentionally part of my purpose as a physician.”

Anita Blanchard, MD

Anita Blanchard, MD

Anita Blanchard, MD, is a professor of obstetrics and gynecology and Associate Dean for Graduate Medical Education at UChicago Medicine.

Edwin K. McDonald IV, MD

Edwin McDonald, MD

Edwin K. McDonald IV, MD, is dedicated to improving the health of individuals and communities through nutrition education.

Learn More About Dr. McDonald
Stephen Estime

Stephen Estime, MD

Stephen Estime, MD, is an Assistant Professor of Anesthesia and Critical Care at UChicago Medicine.

Read more about Dr. Estime