Stephanie Crane, MD, gave life to RUSH University’s global health program. She also gave birth, literally, to one of RUSH’s newest students.
Crane stayed at RUSH to start her career in internal medicine after graduating from RUSH Medical College and staying on campus to complete her residency. A big reason she wanted to remain in the RUSH family was the opportunity to lead and develop a global health program to help meet the health care needs of underserved populations overseas and to help train students at RUSH University.
That includes students like her son Zachary (Zach) Wang, a first-year RUSH Medical College student who was born at RUSH University Medical Center.
With RUSH University commemorating its 50th anniversary, Crane and Wang recently talked about their history there and the important role it has played in their lives.
Dr. Crane, how did you end up at RUSH for medical school?
Stephanie Crane: I did my undergraduate training in Illinois after growing up in Europe, so I really was not familiar with the rest of the United States at all. I spent 10 years in Lisbon, Portugal, went to a French high school for a year and then a boarding school in West Germany for three years. So I really just applied to as many medical school programs that were in the one state I knew.
What was your experience at RUSH Medical College like?
Stephanie Crane: It was a very good experience. I felt extremely well prepared to go on to my internal medicine residency, which I completed here at RUSH. I benefited from professors and mentors who are still here and are now my colleagues. Many of us stay here because of the bonds we develop during our training. That includes people like Richard Abrams, Beth Baker and so many others.
What has remained consistent about RUSH Medical College over the years?
Stephanie Crane: The commitment to the surrounding communities. This has really grown and is one of the reasons I stayed. People like David Ansell and many others have elevated our efforts in that area. With RUSH being geographically located on the West Side, it’s critical that our West Side neighbors have access to RUSH’s services. This has been really exciting to see.
The embers were there when I was in training here, and I’ve seen the fire continue to grow for the last 30 years.
What made you feel like RUSH was the place to grow your career?
Stephanie Crane: In medical school, I really wanted to have some global health opportunities, and there really weren’t any back then. After I finished my residency and had space to carve out my career, I hoped to bring global health to the University. I was given an opportunity to be able to do that with the Office of Global Health. We were given the space to grow and learn, make mistakes, fix them and move on to make our global health efforts better.
We now have a number of robust global health programs across the University. Had it been in a different setting, it would likely have been much harder to get some of these programs started and supported.
Zach, what was your understanding of RUSH when you were growing up?
Zach Wang: When I was a little kid, it was harder to understand why she was working or why she was going on all of these global health trips. I didn’t quite understand the gravity of the work she did and the impact she was making on patients’ lives all over the world. It wasn’t until I got older and started to listen to her at the dinner table about patient care abroad that I really understood how special her efforts were.
And of course I would also visit her often at work as a kid. I have many memories going to RUSH after school to visit my mom and get hot chocolate from the vending machine. I would sit there doing my homework in a corner office. A lot of good memories there.
Zach, when did you realize you wanted to follow in your mother’s footsteps and become a physician?
Zach Wang: There wasn’t one singular moment. Rather, it was the accumulation of my experiences and my time with my mom — being able to see her in action first-hand was very special. I took global health trips with her several times while I was in high school and college. All of those trips and all of my experiences led me toward the medical field.
And RUSH Medical College was at the top of my list when I started looking at medical schools. I grew up five minutes from here, my mom is here, my friends and family are in Chicago, and RUSH is a great University.
Dr. Crane, what role did you play in Zach’s medical school choice?
Stephanie Crane: I've tried to be a supportive parent and give him space to make his own career choice, and now medical school choice. However, I love the fact that we're going to have the medical field to share! It's very special, but I wanted him to make the decisions that were right for him.
Zach, how has your experience at RUSH Medical College gone so far?
Zach Wang: I love it. I mean, it's hard. But my job right now is to learn, and I feel pretty lucky that that's all I have to do right now. I like my classes and my peers.
And I get to visit mom for lunch randomly throughout the week.
Zach, do you envision global health being a part of your training?
Zach Wang: Absolutely. When I took part in RUSH’s global health trips in high school and in college, I was there more as an observer and helping out however I could. Now that I'm in med school, I’d like to return and make more of an impact.
Stephanie Crane: Plus, I know where he lives, so I’ll be sure he does!
Zach Wang: I’ll be there regardless.
Dr. Crane, can you talk about how your passion for global health started?
Stephanie Crane: I was 2 years old when my parents moved to Portugal in the early ’70s, and during that time the African nations of Angola and Mozambique were undergoing a lot of political changes. Consequently, there were many African refugees living near me in Lisbon. One of my best friends lived in a refugee encampment, so seeing the needs of those communities made a big impact on me.
I also loved reading books — and I now realize how colonial and awful they were — about missionary doctors going to places and changing the natives’ health care, which in retrospect we would never endorse. But I grew up with the idea that I would be a doctor, and it wouldn’t be in the United States. But as you get older, you suddenly have medical school debt and kids in school, and reality hits.
All of that had a lot to do with my desire to bring global health programs to RUSH that would allow people to participate ethically and impactfully while still fulfilling their family and job responsibilities.
Can you talk about how far RUSH has come with its global health efforts and how they might evolve in the future?
Stephanie Crane: We’ve gone from no global health programs to many structured programs with around 150 volunteers a year. That’s a mix of students, faculty, residents and staff.
Dr. Ansell always makes the comparison to our West Side outreach efforts, which is focused on sustainability. That’s the approach we take in global health in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The models are interchangeable, and that’s due to the best practices we follow here. We want to see both initiatives grow together.
You both are part of the RUSH University family, and the University has been a big part of yours. Any final thoughts on what the University has meant to you?
Stephanie Crane: Zach was born at RUSH. I was making my clinical rounds that day and basically walked over to the obstetrics suite. So he’s truly a RUSH child in more ways than one. He’s literally been at RUSH since Day One. On the way to school, we would pass RUSH. At home, I shared my experiences with my family. They were so integrated in my mind that it was almost hard to separate family and RUSH.
My entire career has been here, and I’ve been given so many opportunities — like filling gaps in our curriculum and giving people exposure to global health opportunities. I look forward to continuing that because it’s such a powerful story to be told.
Zach Wang: Being part of the RUSH family is special, and I’m excited to be here. Who knows where I’ll end up for my residency, but if I can follow the same path my mom took, I’d do it.