The Association of American Medical Colleges has awarded Rush Medical College the 2020 Spencer Foreman Award for Outstanding Community Engagement, citing the college’s work to protect Chicago’s homeless population from COVID-19.
The award recognizes a medical school or teaching hospital that “goes well beyond the traditional role of academic medicine and reaches communities whose needs are not being met through the traditional health delivery system.”
“Achieving the Spencer Foreman Award has long been a goal, but we are especially proud to receive this honor this year,” said Sharon Gates, DSW, MA, Rush University’s senior director of student diversity and community engagement. “Rush Medical College students and faculty have been on the leading edge of community engagement and activism for many years, but in a year when our community needed them most, they stepped up and stepped in to protect Chicago’s most vulnerable populations.”
Located in Chicago, Rush Medical College is part of Rush University System for Health, training medical students primarily at the system’s anchor hospital, Rush University Medical Center. The Rush system’s commitment to promoting community health equity — that is, giving all people an equal chance to be healthy regardless of race or socioeconomic status — long has been a central component of the college’s medical education. In 1991, the college’s students and instructors started the Rush Community Service Initiatives Program, which provides opportunities for students to gain direct care experience while also filling the need for more care providers in under-resourced communities.
The program has evolved to include a network of 35 clinical and non-clinical community programs in which Rush University students, paired with faculty, volunteer to provide valuable health services to those communities. More than 90% of Rush Medical College students volunteer in one or more activities.
Gates explained that when Rush leaders took the initiative early in the pandemic to launch a multiorganization effort to protect Chicago’s homeless population from the COVID-19 virus, RCSIP had established the “infrastructure of partnerships, reach and trust” needed to help quickly test for and contain the virus among those experiencing homelessness. The organization that emerged from those early efforts — the Chicago Homelessness and Health Response Group and Equity — has worked closely with the city’s public health officials and other health systems to administer shelter-based tests, address outbreaks, provide behavioral health services and identify gaps in care coordination. These efforts have resulted in rates of COVID-19 infection in city homeless shelters that are much lower than the general population’s.
While safety concerns limited students’ direct involvement at shelters and other community settings, Gates noted that “Rush medical students remain a driving force in keeping this effort successful and sustainable.”
The AAMC also cited Rush’s Anchor Mission strategy — its efforts to use its status as an economic anchor to improve the health of the neighborhoods and people of Chicago’s West Side: “Rush has adopted an economic-anchor mission through which it aligns institutional practices — such as hiring, purchasing, and investing — with the needs of communities to improve their long-term well-being,” it said in the award announcement.
“Being named the 2020 Spencer Foreman Award winner is a tremendous honor for the faculty, students and alumni of Rush Medical College” said Dr. Badrinath Konety, dean of Rush Medical College and senior vice president, clinical affairs, of Rush University System for Health. “The efforts of our current faculty, students and administrators have already impacted many lives and are built on the legacy and example of the thousands of empathetic physicians dedicated to outstanding clinical practice, continuous education, research and community service who preceded them.”