Celebrating Black History Month: Reflections on an Inspirational Rush Alumnus

Robert Jordan, MD, giving a girl a check-up

I love hearing inspiring stories about Black leaders in Rush history. They help me form my vision of the future and determine the kind of impact I want to have on the Rush community and beyond. The life and career of longtime Rush alumnus and pediatrician Robert Jordan, MD, is one of those stories. It deeply resonates with me.

Robert Jordan was born in Laurel, Mississippi, in 1942 to parents who had very little money. He started envisioning a career as a doctor after his sister died of complications from asthma. He wondered if she might have lived if his parents had access to adequate health care.

In his early teens, Jordan took a job as a helper in the office of a Black physician. He was obviously smart and hard-working, but his dream of going to medical school was financially out of reach. He even said his high school counselors told him he wasn’t “college material.”

Ten years later, Robert Jordan was living in Chicago and working at a post office here. He was happily married with a young family and meeting co-workers who were going to college at night. 

He felt a competitive spirit rise up inside him, so he started taking classes at Loop City College. He was an excellent student and scored superbly on his MCAT, yet still his college counselors discouraged him from pursuing medicine.

Then, without an appointment, he stopped by Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center (as the Medical Center was known then) late one afternoon and met a physician named John Graettinger, MD, the chairperson of the Department of Medicine and associate dean at Rush Medical College. They talked for two hours. Graettinger was the first person other than Jordan’s wife to say he had a good chance of becoming a doctor. 

The rest is history. Robert Jordan enrolled as a medical student at Rush in 1972 and received his medical degree in 1976. He was Rush’s first Black chief resident in pediatrics in 1979. And he eventually settled in Chicago’s south suburbs to begin working in an area with few private practice pediatricians, giving check-ups, immunizations and medical advice to children who might not have received the care they deserved if not for him.

Dr. Jordan never gave up on his dream, and I love that. His persistence allowed him to make a profound and essential impact on the community he served. I know from his story, and from my own, it only takes one person to believe in you and say, “We’re going to get you where you want to be.”

When Dr. Jordan retired from his 40-year career in medicine in 2017, his patients threw him an all-day retirement party in a park in Chicago Heights. Hundreds of people came. The event had live entertainment and food, but also free blood pressure tests and diabetes screenings. Speeches were made. Patients told how Dr. Jordan made a difference in their lives, even when they had no money to pay him. 

One young girl told the crowd that Dr. Jordan “kept her alive” then flew into his arms to give him a big hug. It made me wonder, did he think of his little sister right then?

Autumn A. Moore is a student in Rush Medical College and president of the college’s Student National Medical Association chapter.

Archival photos courtesy of the Rush University Medical Center Archives.