Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Department of Medicine

Volunteerism

Valuing community health remains a core component of our residency program. We have maintained a relationship with three off-campus community health centers (CHC) that deliver care to a large number of Chicago’s underserved populations. Residents with a particular interest in primary care and community health can elect to do their continuity clinic at one of the three sites. While learning primary care, systems of care, and getting to develop Spanish speaking skills at these sites is a tremendous education, the value of medicine as a service profession is emphasized.

The three clinics include Community Health Clinic in Humboldt Park, Komed Holman Health Center in Kenwood and the Erie Family Health Center in West Town, all of which run year round and are staffed by volunteers, including residents, fellows, attendings, technicians, dentists, interpreters, pharmacists, and administrative volunteers.

The clinics are accessible by public transportation (CTA) and have street parking in the area. Residents who have clinic at a CHC typically work on afternoons, and there are opportunities to volunteer on Saturdays or weekday evenings for 3-4 hours. Working at the clinic provides an opportunity to be surrounded by patients who are grateful for their care and a medical staff that supports both patients and physicians who volunteer.

Meg Ragland, MD notes, “patients coming to the clinic often have not been seen by a doctor for many years or their care has been fragmented between various systems, frequently in more than one country, so CHC is the first time many of them have had continuity of care.” Daniel Olson, MD adds, “it’s been really satisfying to see how well people can turn around and start taking care of longstanding, unaddressed issues.”

A number of our residents are planning careers addressing healthcare disparities or caring for the underserved, so having clinic and volunteering at a CHC can also be important training time for their careers. According to Keerthi Ranganath, MD, working in a community clinic reminds us “how much the system can adversely impact our patients” and teaches how critical well run community health clinics are to underserved patients. The clinic in west Chicago, now recognized as one of the largest community health clinics in the country, was founded by Dr. Jim Webster, NMH former Chief of Service, in the early 1970s. The clinic’s leadership has included Dr. Arnie Widen, winner of the prestigious ACP Volunteer Clinical Teacher Award in 2015. In 2016, our residency received a national service award for our relationship with CHC and the combined effort for community service and residency education.

In addition to community health continuity clinics, the residency program prides itself for the service provided to the veterans at the Jesse Brown VA and to the large underserved population of Chicago that comes through Northwestern Memorial Hospital, which is the second largest charity care provider in Illinois. In 2012, the hospital formed a follow-up discharge clinic for patients who lack access to care and need outpatient follow up to address acute issues, such as follow up checks on an INR or an assessment for resolution of a pneumonia. The clinic is a rich experience for the residents to assist patients of limited means, build on patient education skills and learn from the social workers on negotiating the health care system. A positive culture has supported a service attitude and led to residents volunteering with many organizations including Keep Your Heart Healthy, AHA Heart Walk, Community Health Center, and the Chicago Marathon, among others.

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Dr. Arnie Widen, ACP Volunteer of the Year 2015, with Dr. Aashish Didwania, residency director.