Dr. Eric Whitaker to Leave the University of Chicago Medicine in March

Dr. Eric Whitaker to Leave the University of Chicago Medicine in March

November 15, 2012

Eric Whitaker, MD, MPH, will leave his post at the University of Chicago Medicine as executive vice president of strategic affiliations and associate dean of community-based research on March 31 to seek a new venture in the public health field.

Whitaker, 47, has held the role since October 2007, when a position was created to lead the Urban Health Initiative (UHI), the University of Chicago Medicine's long-term commitment to improving health and access to quality care on the South Side through patient care, community-based research, and medical education.

In the coming months, the medical center will conduct a national search for his replacement. During this time, Whitaker will continue to support the University of Chicago Medicine's community outreach and work to ensure a smooth transition. He has agreed to a seat on the UHI advisory board, which will ensure the program's continuity. The advisory board will continue to draw from his extensive knowledge of the program and its mission, along with his deep understanding of public health policy.

"Eric has been a driving force behind the Urban Health Initiative," said Kenneth S. Polonsky, MD, executive vice president for medical affairs at the University of Chicago and dean of the Biological Sciences Division and Pritzker School of Medicine, in a memo to employees. "The invaluable ties he has helped forge between the University of Chicago Medicine and the city's community, religious and political leaders have resulted in concrete improvements in health education, access to care, and general well-being for so many of our neighbors here on Chicago's South Side and beyond. His contributions will continue to be felt for years to come."

Whitaker's career has been dedicated to developing entrepreneurial solutions to public health challenges. Prior to joining the University of Chicago Medicine, he was director of the Illinois Department of Public Health and he served as a senior attending physician at Cook County Hospital. He also founded and directed Project Brotherhood, an innovative, award-winning barbershop-based program designed to improve the health of African-American men through education and screenings.

While details of the next chapter of his career are being finalized, Whitaker said he remains committed to public health.

"I am a South Sider by birth and by choice," he said. "I maintained my connection to the community by earning my medical degree from the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Medicine, then by working at Cook County Hospital. I intend to keep faith with my commitment to the community and to the challenge of providing innovative solutions to public health issues."

The Urban Health Initiative has become an integral part of the University of Chicago Medicine's mission of improving health outcomes and access to quality care since its launch in 2005. Under Whitaker's leadership, the number of participating primary care providers increased from 18 to more than 30, including five hospitals. Other accomplishments under his leadership include:

  • The launch of the Center for Community Health and Vitality and Southside Health and Vitality Studies, which led to comprehensive asset mapping to optimize community resources to promote health and manage disease.
  • The creation of the Office of Community Based Education, which encourages medical students to work in the community in tandem with their coursework. Pritzker students now staff four free health clinics.
  • The use of innovative models to improve health care such as Project ECHO, which uses teleconference technology, disease management tools and the expertise of specialists to expand the skills of primary care providers at community health centers.

Beyond UHI, Whitaker also has overseen the University of Chicago Medicine's Office of Community Affairs, which continues to build close ties to community partners to raise awareness of public health issues; Volunteer Services, which has increased the number of volunteers by nearly 50 percent to just under 1,000; and Business Diversity, where the University of Chicago Medicine's commitment to minority participation in construction projects and professional services garnered the 2012 Supplier Diversity Leadership Award from UHC, an alliance of the nation's leading academic medical centers.

These efforts collectively have led to recognition for the University of Chicago Medicine as a finalist in the Association of American Medical Colleges' Spencer Foreman Award for Outstanding Community Service.

Polonsky reiterated the University of Chicago Medicine's support to the work of the Urban Health Initiative and other community efforts.

"The UHI has become a cornerstone to the University of Chicago Medicine's mission," Polonsky said. "We can take great pride in its success in linking our underserved South Side neighbors with the education, resources and care they need to live healthy and productive lives."