ASPECTS Southern Illinois University School of Medicine | Winter 2021 | 43-3



INDEX PHOTO: Members of the SIU School of Medicine chapter of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, pictured from left to right: Alexander Worix, Lauren Hall, Travis Fulk, Aaron Peach, Gregory Harpring, Audra Storm and Bennett Stephens


At SIU School of Medicine, we value diversity — of culture, ethnicity, gender and lifestyle. Above all, we value equity. Equity, diversity and inclusion are central strategies for SIU School of Medicine to meet its mission and to prepare the health care workforce of the future. We use our anti-racism task force, affinity groups, signature conferences and specific programs for global health, pipelines, broad-based inclusion and women in medicine to bring the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion to the forefront.

The impact of our investment in diversity programs is evident. Among all U.S. medical schools, SIU School of Medicine currently ranks in the 93rd percentile for graduates who are African American or Black, 88th percentile for female faculty members, and 48th percentile for all underrepresented groups in medicine. These are numbers, raw data and statistics, which reflect a degree of diversity. This information does not, however, reflect the relationships and systemic changes needed during this time of national reckoning for structural racism, misogyny and bias.

In this issue of Aspects, we invite you to discover the stories and strategies that motivate some of SIU’s equity leaders. Our feature story will lead you on the “Pathways to Equity” walked by our associate dean of equity, diversity and inclusion, Dr. Wendi El-Amin. As you read this issue, you will be introduced to other individuals and groups that challenge the status quo and hold us all accountable on issues of equity. We are grateful for their leadership, advocacy and all the ways they teach us all to amplify marginalized voices in academic medicine. Join us.

Jerry Kruse, MD, MSPH

Dean and Provost, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine CEO, SIU Medicine

STELLAR: School receives top international award

STELLAR: School receives top international award

An international medical education organization selected SIU School of Medicine to receive one of its inaugural awards for institutional excellence.

The Association for Medical Education in Europe (AMEE) presented the ASPIRE Stellar Award to the SIU School of Medicine in recognition of its commitment to excellence in a range of educational areas. AMEE promotes international excellence in education in the health care professions across the continuum of undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing education. It has members in more than 90 countries and across five continents.

“This is a tremendous honor,” said Jerry Kruse, dean and provost at SIU School of Medicine. “For our medical school, it’s like getting an early career lifetime achievement award. It is not an exaggeration to say our students receive a world-class education in Springfield and Carbondale.”

During the past decade, the School of Medicine has received five of AMEE’s ASPIRE to Excellence awards for facets of its educational program: in student assessment, student engagement, social accountability, medical simulation, and curriculum delivery and innovation. SIU is one of only two medical schools in the world to hold as many as five ASPIRE Awards.

Debra Klamen, MD, senior associate dean for education and curriculum, accepted the ASPIRE Stellar Award on behalf of the school at AMEE’s digital conference on September 8.

Dr. Agamah | Amanda Wilde | Sacharitha Bowers, MD | Mary Stewart

Agamah honored for voluntary service

Edem Agamah, MD, professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, has been awarded the 2020-21 American College of Physicians’ Award for Volunteerism and Community Service. Dr. Agamah has been delivering health care to underserved populations for decades, addressing inequalities in Ghana. He helped to form the International Health and Development Network (IHDN), a non-governmental organization. IHDN has successfully developed sustainable primary healthcare programs in small towns and villages in the developing world. For more than two decades, Dr. Agamah has sponsored nearly 370 short-term volunteer visits from the U.S. to Ghana to assist with IHDN work. He has recruited both medical and non-medical volunteers to assist with mission trips from the U.S. and Ghana.

SIU staff, camp are ‘Best of Springfield’

Central Illinois readers named pediatric nurse Amanda Wilde "Best Nurse" in the Illinois Times Best of Springfield contest. In addition, the Department of Pediatrics' Camp COCO, a summer camp for children who have been diagnosed with cancer, was voted "Best Camp for Kids" and alum Dr. Cara Vasconcelles, '91, received the “Best Doctor” honor.

Bowers is a ‘Patient Care Hero’

The American Academy of Dermatology has named SIU dermatologist Sacharitha Bowers, MD, a ‘Patient Care Hero’ for her role in addressing disparities in care related to COVID-19 in Springfield.

Leveraging years of relationship-building with local organizations and community members, SIU School of Medicine launched an ‘Equity COVID Response Team’ to build trust and improve care for minoritized communities.

Led by Wendi El-Amin, MD, associate dean of the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Bowers and colleagues across specialties worked with the Sangamon County Health Department to collect information on race and ZIP codes to identify gaps and guide outreach and education efforts. The team used this information to develop and distribute thousands of tailored educational materials that reflect the needs and concerns of community residents. The result was a highly successful campaign that educated people about how to protect themselves from the virus and encouraged mask wearing among minoritized communities.

Stewart receives Patient Access Award

Mary Stewart, chief operating officer at SIU Medicine, was recognized nationally for her leadership in patient access. Mary was presented the 2020 Patient Access Award from the national organization Patient Access Collaborative for her leadership, mentorship and presentations. SIU Medicine joined this collaborative with other health care organizations such as Cedars Sinai, Iowa Healthcare, Mercy and Johns Hopkins. We salute Mary for her leadership, continually working to help SIU excel at patient experience and access for those needing health care.

Farm Family Resource Initiative offers new helpline

Area farmers who need someone to talk to about the everyday stresses of farming and pandemic-related challenges now have a new resource. A helpline (1-833-FARM-SOS) will connect farmers to health professionals and services through the Farm Family Resource Initiative.

In addition to the helpline, the initiative offers ongoing outreach, education and training to rural partners working to improve the health and safety of farm families. Free webinars and trainings on psychological signs of stress and Mental Health First Aid offer program participants skill-building tools to meet the needs of rural clients and farmers.

“Small farms are the core of our state’s economy, and farmers are on the front lines to provide food for our communities. The reality of this pandemic is that a new layer of stress has been put on farmers and farm families,” said Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign). “The Farm Family Resource Initiative and helpline will give farmers additional support to help folks recognize and navigate these times.”

The Farm Family Resource Initiative is a joint pilot program of SIU School of Medicine and the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Sen. Bennett provided the legislative leadership. The SIU School of Medicine’s Center for Rural Health and Social Services Development is spearheading the effort to build a statewide network of support and resources for Illinois farm families, starting in six counties: Christian, Logan, Macon, Macoupin, Morgan and Sangamon.

AMA grant empowers women physician researchers

Vidhya Prakash, MD, Heeyoung Han, PhD, Susan Hingle, MD, and Wendi El-Amin, MD, are recipients of the American Medical Association's 2020 Joan F. Giambalvo Fund for the Advancement of Women. Established in the 2006, the Giambalvo fund promotes progress of women in medicine while identifying and addressing their needs. The grant was named in honor of Dr. Joan Fara Giambalvo who passed away at the age of 39 from liposarcoma.

The sponsorship program, Research Initiative to Sponsor and Empower Women in Medicine and Science (RISE WIMS), calls for volunteer research teams at SIU School of Medicine to invite junior and mid-career academic women physicians to join an existing research project. Women faculty may also propose their own research idea, in which case they will be paired with an appropriate senior research sponsor within the institution.

“We are honored to have been awarded this grant,” said Dr. Prakash, professor of internal medicine at SIU School of Medicine. “It is a tremendous privilege to be able to give deserving women in medicine and science an opportunity to expand their horizons and lead groundbreaking research, narrowing the gender equity chasm. We are grateful to the AMA for its invaluable support.”

Each woman researcher will have the opportunity to sign up for mentorship and coaching through existing programs offered by the Alliance for Women in Medicine and Science (AWIMS) and the Center for Human and Organizational Potential (cHOP), respectively.

How will COVID affect Alzheimer’s patients?

Medical researchers at SIU School of Medicine’s Neuroscience Institute are studying how the novel coronavirus may accelerate the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The team’s data could help identify patients that are more susceptible to the disease’s cognitive and physical decline.

Erin Hascup, PhD, director of the Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders (CADRD) and associate professor in the Departments of Neurology and Pharmacology at SIU School of Medicine, and Kevin Hascup, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Neurology, Neuroscience Institute, are leading the laboratory investigations. Previously, the group had been awarded $6.7 million in grants from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study how glutamate dysregulation, inflammation and cellular senescence within the brain affects the cognitive decline of Alzheimer’s disease patients. The research may produce useful early biomarkers and therapeutic targets for fighting the disease.

The Hascups teamed up with Michael Olson, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology (MMICB), to conduct this COVID-19 research together. Andrew Wilber, PhD, associate professor in MMICB, and his lab staff are providing virological expertise for the project. A $368,750 supplementary NIA grant will support the work.

“COVID-19-positive patients have acute respiratory infection, but there is also evidence of inflammation in the brain that may accelerate brain aging and increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s,” says Dr. Kevin Hascup. “We hope that this research will help determine the effects of COVID-19 on the Alzheimer’s population, as well as if COVID-19 changes your susceptibility to, or progression of the disease.”

McNeese poetry short wins Mid-America Emmy

Dr. Wesley Robinson-McNeese, director of diversity initiatives for the SIU System, was featured in The Storyteller Studios production that won a 2020 Mid-America Emmy Award for short video. Dr. McNeese reads a poem he wrote, ‘Face To Face,’ from inside the remains of black-owned home that was burned in the 1908 race riots in Springfield. The short film bested five other entries.

Producer Chris Costello said the award win would not have been possible had it not been for Robinson-McNeese putting pen to paper and creating such a powerful piece of poetry. “It is an incredible honor to have our work recognized at this level, but it is more so to receive recognition for a project that has such historical significance not just here in Springfield but across the entire country,” he said.

“I am thankful to have been part of a project that unashamedly shed more light on the Springfield Race Pogrom of 1908 and its aftermath,” said Dr. McNeese, “especially calling attention to the transgenerational racial trauma most African Americans grapple with every day.”

► View the video and learn its history

Mellinger chair of American Board of Surgery

The American Board of Surgery, the national certifying body for general surgeons and related specialists, has named John Mellinger, MD, as chair for 2020-21. Mellinger is the J. Roland Folse, MD Endowed Chair in Surgery, vice chair of the department of surgery, and professor and chair of general surgery at SIU School of Medicine. He also serves as director for leadership and excellence of the Center for Human and Organizational Potential at SIU.

Hingle receives AMWA career recognition

The American Medical Women’s Association has selected Susan Hingle, MD, professor and associate dean for human and organizational potential, as the 2021 recipient of AMWA’s Elizabeth Blackwell Award. Established in 1949 by Elise S. L'Esperance, MD, the award is granted annually to the woman physician who has made the most outstanding contribution to the cause of women in the field of medicine. A presentation will take place during the AMWA LEADS Virtual Meeting in March 2021.

Aspects of a LEARNER

Lucas Dominic Martinez

Physician Assistant Program - Class of 2022

Photography by Yenitza Melgoza

Where did you grow up? I was born in the Philippines just south of the capital, Manila. I am the youngest of three siblings and we were raised by a single mother. When I was 20, my sister and I moved to the U.S. so we could find jobs and help my mom back home. Our goal was to eventually become citizens and bring my mother and brother to the U.S

Where did you attend college? What degree(s) did you earn? I started off with an Associate’s Degree in Diagnostic Imaging from my local community college. I worked as an ultrasound technologist for five years while taking a few classes every semester. Eventually I was able to complete a Bachelor's of Science in Healthcare Leadership from the University of St. Francis. I am the first in my family to attend and finish college.

What inspired you to enter the physician assistant program? I absolutely loved my career as sonographer. But after five years in that role, it began to feel like I was handcuffed to my machine. I was willing to do so much more for my patients. That's when I knew it was the right time to advance my career and become a provider.

How did your challenges affect you? Being born and raised in a developing country truly gives you a unique perspective on life. Our family struggled to remain afloat. It was a huge challenge for my mother to provide for three kids on her own. As a kid, I remember studying for tests by candlelight because we were always late on our electric bill. Our house did not have running water so I would have to pump water from a well and fill buckets to haul back to our house. My sister and I both had to drop out of high school to help my mother make ends meet. I’ve been through a lot of setbacks in life, but I wear each one as a badge of honor. Despite growing up in poverty, my family and I never felt pity for ourselves. In fact, we were happy just being together. I am proud of my roots and my upbringing, and I believe this is what makes me diverse.

When I moved here, my sister and I worked humble jobsand learned life in America one day at a time. I worked as a dishwasher, a stock boy, a waiter, a sales associate, anything that would allow me to send money back home. On my third year as an immigrant, my mom was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer. Having not seen her in three years, I knew I had to drop everything and leave. I went back home to the Philippines to be with her.

What was truly painful about the situation was learning that my mom tried to hide her condition. She knew our family could not afford to treat her and she refused to leave her children in debt. She passed away a few days after I arrived. I spent the next few months blaming myself for not being there sooner and not knowing any better. It was a turning point in my life. It was the moment I decided to pursue healthcare as a career. I picked myself up and flew back to the U.S. with a fire within me, and a new goal in mind. I applied for college and eventually got accepted into an ultrasound program. I went to clinicals in the morning and worked at a restaurant at night. After completing my degree, I was finally able to start my career as an ultrasound technologist. And here I am today with a five-year career in sonography, halfway done with the didactic year of PA school. The fire still burns, and I can almost taste my end goal.

My older sister also returned to the U.S. She decided to pursue her dream of a career in the culinary industry. She worked her way up and I am super proud of her! Despite not having a culinary degree, she became a pastry sous chef at a Michelin star restaurant in New York City. She was even featured on a Filipino TV network. She now owns and operates her own pastry business in Manhattan. She and I became U.S. citizens in 2017, and we were able to petition for my brother and my nephew to come to America. In 2019 my brother and his son were able to get their green cards. Our family embodies the American dream, proving that people from all walks of life can find success in this country as long as they are determined and hard working.

What do you hope to accomplish in the future? I want to help someone beat cancer. I was 23 when I lost my mom to lung cancer. I still remember that feeling of being helpless. Our family couldn't afford to treat her, and my siblings and I lost the only parent we ever had. It was the darkest point of my life and I kept thinking how life could be so unfair. If there is one goal I want to accomplish in my entire career as a PA, it would be to tell a dedicated mother that her cancer is all gone.

What advice would you give to other young men and women who are faced with adversity because of poverty, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.? Never underestimate your own potential. All it takes is that one spark to ignite whatever passion is within you. Anytime I am struggling or stressed, I think back to where I came from and realize that I have come so far in life. Use your setbacks as coal to keep your flame burning. We are often stronger than we think.


Wendi Wills El-Amin’s journey to the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

By Rikeesha Phelon | Photography by Sara Way

“I'm a third-generation healer. My father is a physician; my grandmother delivered babies. It's part of my path and I want to honor this legacy.”

Wendi Wills El-Amin, MD, is also a third-generation educator. Both her grandfather and mother were science teachers. Her work in academia is not only an extension of her father's work, but it also mirrors her mother's magnetic way of teaching neighborhood kids about the sciences.

She can remember asking many questions while she sat on her skateboard, surrounded by neighborhood boys who gathered for “science Saturdays.” Before STEM was in style, many Saturdays started with her mother going to a Houston fish market to buy fish for her and all the neighborhood kids to learn to dissect.

To a young Wendi, there was nothing exceptional about her mother's leadership in science or her father's leadership in medicine. “It was just my world, and that was my street, and that was my block,” she says.

When Wills El-Amin was nine, her father completed his internal medicine residency and the family moved to a new neighborhood with a predominantly white school. In the new environment, she remembers the first time she was called the n-word.

“At the time, I didn't even fully know what it meant,” she recalls. “But everything shifted.”

She didn't have as many friends after the move, but still did well in school even in her strange new environment. When her mother announced another move to yet another new school in the seventh grade, Wills El-Amin began to fully understand the sacrifice and investment that her parents were making toward her education.

Beyond assigning tremendous value to learning, Wills El-Amin's parents also modeled a community service ethic that she continues to embody today.

“My mother always included other children in our experiences. If we were going to the park, Mom would pick up three or four neighborhood kids to go with us. We learned to stay proximate to others who did not have the same opportunities we had. We understood that our purpose was to help others.”

Because of this, Wills El-Amin always envisioned herself as someone who was going to make an impact in society. However, it wasn't always clear that a busy medical career was the path.

Her father put in long hours as a physician in private practice, modeling a professional life that was honorable but full of sacrifice. A beloved aunt — also a doctor and the first black woman to attend the University of Southern California — mirrored that same busy image. Wills El-Amin didn’t see many images of woman physicians who were also mothers.

Unsure of her direction, Wills El-Amin began studying to become a psychologist before a passion for biology drew her to the sciences and down a path toward medicine.

Felicia Olawuni, Dr. Wendi El-Amin, Blake Gray


As her career was developing, Wills El-Amin considered joining her father in private practice and bolstering its women's health and children's services. But she enjoyed family medicine and wanted a practice that was comprehensive and community-focused.

Other Black physicians began to influence her direction. At Georgetown School of Medicine, family physician Dr. Darlene Underwood became a treasured role model. There was no patient Underwood couldn't treat, from babies to the elderly. “I wanted to be just like her and take care of everybody. She was just magic,” Wills El-Amin says. Family medicine offered an approach to care that was also grounded in social justice and equity.

While Wills El-Amin was at Georgetown, Washington D.C. communities were experiencing the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis. The medical school became a mecca of opportunity for community medicine. Wills El-Amin began hosting science fair projects through the Student National Medical Association, replicating the science Saturdays of her youth while emphasizing representation. She wanted to show other Black students that they too could become scientists and physicians, that diversity is possible across the spectrum of health care.

Wills El-Amin chose the University of Texas at Houston for residency. She wanted her training to be in an urban environment with a Federally Qualified Health Center. She returned to her original Houston neighborhood and became deeply embedded, becoming chief resident, and started working in correctional health.

She accepted a position to work in correctional medicine at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville while nine months pregnant with the first of her three daughters. The experience was powerful and formative. Many of the women had never seen an African-American female physician. Wills El-Amin told them, “Yes. I'm your doctor, and I'm here to take care of you.”

With three children below the age of 5, she took a new position. While working in the Department of Family Medicine, she became

the director of Health Disparities Initiatives for the University of Virginia Cancer Center. She went on to become an assistant dean of medical education.

Recruited to SIU School of Medicine in 2014, she was aware of the school’s national reputation for medical education and its Medical/Dental Education Preparatory Program (MEDPREP) in Carbondale. The latter had launched some notable colleagues' medical careers. One was Wesley Robinson McNeese, MD.


Wes McNeese, MD, was named the inaugural associate dean of the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (OEDI) in 2016. Prior to OEDI, McNeese joined SIU School of Medicine as faculty and founded the Office of Diversity, Multicultural and Minority Affairs in 2001. By establishing OEDI, SIU School of Medicine created the opportunity for equity issues to be part of the school's infrastructure. He is still instrumental in guiding the Physician Pipeline Preparatory Program (P4) and serves as an ombudsman to the SIU System as the executive director for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

Dr. McNeese also started the Alonzo Kenniebrew, MD Lecture and Forum. This annual event has allowed the OEDI the opportunity to bring national speakers to SIU to explore issues of race and health care justice. One of the speakers, Dana Matthews, is author of the book “Just Medicine.”

Matthew's presentation deepened Wills El-Amin's understanding of her new home, Springfield. She learned that the city where Abraham Lincoln lived was also the site of race riots in 1908, the catalyst for the creation of the NAACP. Springfield has a higher segregation index due to historical injustices and redlining, some of which still affect how people of color are accessing health care and education to this day.

When Wills El-Amin began as the institution's second associate dean after McNeese, she established a framework to build on the foundation that McNeese had laid. “I started looking at us as having an equity, diversity and inclusion ecosystem that includes six different elements that have an impact on our patients, learners, faculty, staff and our communities.” This ecosystem's elements are policies, educational assessments, global health, community outreach, pipeline programs and affinity groups.

Wills El-Amin approaches her work not only as a family physician who sees patients but also as an academic strategist working with the Department of Medical Education.

“I love this role because it allows me to work with minoritized students as well as all other students who need to enhance their academics.”

She keeps the equity ecosystem in mind as she works with people, regardless of race, sex or gender. She also checks to ensure the equity ecosystem is fully realized across the institution.

“I didn't want the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to be a silo,” she says. She thought long and hard about what strategies would allow the work to have a lasting impact and a reach inside each academic and clinical department. OEDI’s Equity Ambassador program was one strategy.

The Equity Ambassador program brings together individuals from various departments to share views on issues affecting equity in the workplace, while providing the ambassadors the support and tools to create change where it's needed.

“The Equity Ambassador program helps us to all understand and address areas of inequity that exist on campus and in our community,” says Michael Olson, PhD, an equity ambassador in Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology. Olson helped establish a book club that explores social justice themes. “It’s increasing our understanding of these inequities and providing tools for productive dialogue, learning and the strength needed to result in positive change.”

Other equity ambassador initiatives include Emergency Medicine’s development of “upstander” training to make underrepresented groups feel welcomed in the ER, and Family Medicine’s series of trainings that include coaching on cultural humility.


In 2019, Dean Jerry Kruse, MD, MSPH, declared that SIU School of Medicine would become an anti-racist institution. OEDI has been at the forefront of implementing this commitment across the entire organization. But in 2020, societal events pushed the need for this work into the foreground.

COVID-19 began to infect communities, taking a disproportionate toll on people of color. The data shined a bright light on health care disparities that have existed for centuries in the United States.

As families were isolating at home, two brutal deaths of African Americans occurred at the hands of local law enforcement. The uproar over police brutality and racial discrimination prompted marches, rioting and soul searching that transcended the nation’s typical short attention span. It forced many segments of society to hold bracing conversations about equity and justice. SIU School of Medicine had some groundwork in place.

“I was proud that Dean Kruse had the foresight to make opposition to racism a central tenet of our strategic plan,” says El-Amin. “It needs stating because it’s obviously important. It threatens public health.”

In 2020, SIU System President Dan Mahony also charged each campus to establish an anti-racism task force. For the School of Medicine, Kruse appointed 35 members to develop four focus areas: metrics, organizational analysis, policies and procedures, and training.

President Mahony also commissioned a series of “Conversations of Understanding” to create even more opportunities for equity work to be prioritized in the SIU System that includes Edwardsville and Carbondale’s campuses. Having the system office lead these discussions elevates their importance and underscores the need for OEDI in academic medicine.

While the system office's external support is instrumental, one of the reasons that OEDI's small team has been successful is because of its partnerships with other teams within the School of Medicine. Working with the Alliance of Women in Medicine and Science, the Department of Medical Humanities and the Center for Human and Organizational Potential (cHOP) has amplified the impact and helped share the burden of work as OEDI builds for the future.

“cHOP’s mission is to create an environment in which inclusive partnerships unleash the potential of our people and communities to learn, thrive and excel,” says Susan Hingle, MD, associate dean for cHOP. “This is simply not going to happen if we do not assist in creating a diverse, inclusive, equitable and just workplace. Our partnership with the OEDI is critical to the success of the school’s goals.”


When Dr. Wills El-Amin thinks about what motivates her work at SIU, she recalls her formative years when a responsibility to others became engrained. She works hard to instill it in her daughters, and in the students and colleagues she encounters in the clinics and corridors at work.

She approaches each interaction as if it's not an accident. Each exchange has a purpose, possibility or potential waiting to be tapped.

“Being in academic medicine is an opportunity to have an impact on society, to give to the next generation of physicians. In 10 years, I hope that our graduates reflect the diversity of our society and the communities where they will practice. I hope that younger, underrepresented children can see themselves reflected in the professions of medicine. I hope our research is creating innovative solutions around race and health equity in communities.”

“We should honor other people’s lives,” she says, smiling. “Whether it’s in a patient room or an interaction with a student, every person has value.”

Chancellor Dr. Austin Lane, Dr. Jerry Kruse, Dr. Wendi El-Amin, Dr. Erik Constance

New Face in a Safe Space

Burnside, faculty make MEDPREP a welcoming environment

By Steve Sandstrom | Photography by Yenitza Melgoza

Randy Burnside, PhD

Fifteen years ago, Randy Burnside, PhD, was in New Orleans with his wife, her family and a new 2-month-old son when Hurricane Katrina struck, pushing 8 feet of water into their home. He had just been hired to teach at SIU and was preparing to move to southern Illinois.

This year, Burnside began a new job as director of MEDPREP just as the coronavirus was making inroads into the United States. He had traversed the Carbondale campus to get there, as an associate professor teaching public administration courses in SIU’s Department of Political Science. His research was focused on behavior, bureaucratic leadership and management of disasters, and the socio-legal aspects of recovery.

Despite the turmoil that seemed to accompany them, new ventures in life don’t intimidate Burnside. “I’ve gotten used to working in disaster zones,” he says.

SIU’s Medical/Dental Education Preparatory Program — or MEDPREP — is the opposite of a disaster: It’s a proven success. The post-baccalaureate feeder program has been based in Wheeler Hall in Carbondale since 1972, producing 1455 alumni, of whom 253 have gone on to SIU School of Medicine (an average of nearly seven every year).

The program provides a rigorous but highly individualized atmosphere for underrepresented minority and disadvantaged learners, focused on academics as well as personal and professional development. Nearly two-thirds of its students are accepted to medical school within two years of finishing the program and almost 90 percent of those have graduated or are expected to graduate.

Burnside is a first generation college graduate from rural Mississippi. He joined the army at 17 to earn money for school, so he can closely identify with the struggles college students face today. “I’ve had to work for everything. A lot of our students come from poor, urban backgrounds. Costs have climbed and most parents can only offer their moral support, not their financial support.”

Burnside says experiencing the Category 5 hurricane kick-started his focus on public administration. “The leadership of elected officials is paramount during these disasters. In many ways it dictates how the public responds.”

He sees parallels in the current pandemic. “There are states where leadership has taken steps to protect the public and imposed stricter health measures. Others have been less authoritative about regulating behavior. Without quality leadership, you can have a mess.”

At MEDPREP, the pandemic uprooted traditional teaching methods favored by students and faculty, forcing the staff to review curriculum and health protocols and examine the ways new learners were recruited. Classes became virtual; distance learning was encouraged.

With his background in disaster management and edicts to make safety paramount, Burnside was impressed by what he saw.

“Everyone has embraced this as an opportunity to be creative and innovative, and it has gone exceptionally well.” While teaching face-to-face might be preferred, learner feedback for the new normal has been excellent, he says.

Complicating matters, the students had to work through a second maelstrom created by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police.

Burnside and MEDPREP instructors discussed the tragedies with them, using materials from the SIU System Diversity Council’s ‘Conversations of Understanding’ (Burnside is a council member). He encouraged the students to attend the virtual sessions that dealt with mental health and systemic racism.

In September he invited Dr. Courtney Bodie, director of counseling services at SIU Edwardsville, to talk to the students about mental health and self-care during turbulent times. The dialogues spurred some individuals to seek help within Carbondale’s counseling center.

Prior to coming to MEDPREP, Burnside knew a number of the students from around SIU, from church and as acquaintances. He thinks his new transition, coupled with an open-door policy, has gone smoothly, all things considered.

“The structure around here is pretty sound,” he says. “These are bright young people who are dealing with a lot, mentally and emotionally. I know the dreams they have. We want to make that possible for them.”

Harold and Lana Bardo MEDPREP Scholarship

John Lewis Memorial Scholarship

Shirley McGlinn Scholarship Endowment

Robinson-McNeese MEDPREP Scholarship

Tamara O’Neal MEDPREP Scholarship

MEDPREP Scholarship Fund

Learning the Language of Trust

By Steve Sandstrom

Julio Barrenzuela (right) and Pastor Walter Rivas

Julio Barrenzuela is adept at overcoming cultural barriers. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, he holds hope that an SIU outreach program can improve the health of Springfield’s Latino and undocumented populations.

In spring 2020, Barrenzuela joined SIU’s newly formed Illinois Virtual Care Program as a pandemic health worker (PHW), hired to build bridges between Springfield’s Spanish-speaking communities and its medical community. Since 2015, SIU Medicine has been making progress in neglected neighborhoods of Springfield, using community health workers to connect residents with social services and family health care providers through the federal Affordable Care Act.

A serious need also existed within the city’s Hispanic and undocumented populations, but had proven more complicated to tackle.

Barrenzuela possesses an ideal skillset. Born in Lima, Peru, he immigrated to Springfield with his family as a child. He served in the United States Navy, where Chaplain Corps duties and tours to numerous ports encouraged an acceptance of others regardless of religious or cultural beliefs. Following military service, he earned a bachelor’s degree at SIU-Carbondale and a master’s degree at Woodbury University in Los Angeles. LA had been his home for the past decade before returning to Springfield.

His people skills were further honed at dance clubs during military shore leaves and on the West Coast, growing into a decade-long side-hustle as the “ambassador of salsa.” The salsa classes energized a broad range of audiences, from students to retirement home residents, and frequently brought him back to Illinois to lead groups.

At one such presentation at SIU School of Medicine, Wendi El-Amin, MD, associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion, mentioned that 80 percent of a person’s health is their quality of life. The remark struck a chord with Barrenzuela.

Health disparities became more apparent when he began looking at the opportunities available to segments of the population. “Something like access to health care can have an impact on your mental health and lead to anxiety and depression,” he says.

At SIU, Barrenzuela found people who were invested in helping change the status quo.

“It’s bigger than being bilingual, It’s a sense of being multicultural."

I’ve come to appreciate the difference. Knowing the cultural norms and social structures is equally important for navigation.”

Barrenzuela views his PHW role as another way to bring people together for a common good. He credits collaborations with a trio of local Latino organizations — the Springfield Immigrant Advocacy Network, Culturally Integrated Education for Latinos Organization and the Hispanic Women of Springfield — who have built up trust over the years, making it easier for him to leverage pandemic resources for those who need it most.

However, members of the undocumented community have a higher level of suspicion toward accepting public benefits, as it typically involves being added to a government database, he says.

“There’s a very real fear of deportation, so it takes a degree of trust and honest communication to make them comfortable enough to take advantage of the services we offer.”

“We’re trying to provide resources and open them up to a paradigm shift toward preventive care that will improve their lives,” Barrenzuela says. “So it’s important to meet them where they are, where they work, or at home, and break bread with them. They must trust us.”

Like a dance lesson, he expects numerous attempts will be necessary to get the right steps in place.

“It will take some creativity to strengthen these social bonds, but the results will ultimately be worth it.”

Out of Many, One

Student groups bond over adversities, diversity

by Steve Sandstrom | Photography by Sara Way

PHOTO: Tatiana Kelley, Roxana Moraga, Travis Fulk, Ihuoma Igbokwe, Alexander Worix

In the days following the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in spring 2020, protests erupted across the United States. Though a pandemic made gatherings more difficult, citizens of all races and ages poured onto the streets to protest injustice and police brutality.

Within the School of Medicine, Dean and Provost Jerry Kruse, MD, and Wendi El-Amin, MD, associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion, wrote open letters expressing sorrow and outrage. Each affirmed the need to make SIU an anti-racist institution.

At the same time, medical students across SIU’s campuses were talking to each other, sharing their concerns within peer groups. Despite the groundswell of support, there was skepticism that much was going to change.

At a June meeting of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), fourth-year medical student Tatiana Kelley asked members if they were interested in creating a document that outlined initiatives for the school’s new anti-racist stance.

In a different discussion within the Sister 2 Sister group, founder Dr. Erica Maduakolam (’20) proposed a “needs assessment” to see where problems existed. Both S2S president Morgan Watts and president of the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) Roxana Moraga suggested enlisting the support of each marginalized groups on campus within the process.

Alexander Worix, a Black man and officer in the SIU chapter of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA), thought of a name for the group: the Marginalized Student Network. GLMA co-president Travis Fulk created its logo. Outreach to the students gathered momentum.

“It made sense to come together to support one another because we all had things in common,” Worix says.

The new Marginalized Student Network (MSN) is comprised of students from the GLMA, LMSA, SNMA, and two organizations for women: the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) and Sister to Sister (S2S), which supports minority women in medicine.

Each group has a national organization that helps coordinate its local chapters; some have regional boards, as well. The GLMA is the newest to campus, started in 2018. It advocates for LGBTQ+ members in health care and health professions. The oldest is the SNMA, the largest independent, student-run organization that focuses on the needs and concerns of Black and Latinx medical students in the United States.

Currently, ethnic minorities make up 40 percent of the U.S. population but are underrepresented in medicine. Approximately 7 percent of all medical school students are Black and 6 percent are Hispanic. About 11 percent of current practicing U.S. physicians and 9 percent of professors at medical schools are from underrepresented ethnic minorities.

Within SIU School of Medicine’s Policy and Plan for Diversity and Inclusion, the administration cites the benefits of diversity strategies for the continuing success of its missions:

A diverse and culturally competent student body cultivates student interest in caring for these populations. It increases patient satisfaction with health care, as patients who are ethnic minorities are more likely to see a doctor if he or she is of the same ethnic group and rate themselves as more satisfied with the care they receive. And it can help increase the number of underrepresented faculty.

Like classes that have gone before them, these students want to have a positive influence on the school’s direction. The MSN drafted a proposal that stated its case clearly to SIU’s institutional leadership: "We are here because this culture of complacency and silence has rendered us at a disadvantage for a long time, and since we now have a stance of anti-racism, it is time for purposeful action and policies to identify and rectify systems that have NOT been working for ALL students."

Among the network’s initial goals was establishing a White Coat for Black Lives (WC4BL) chapter at the School of Medicine.

The national organization seeks to dismantle racism in medicine and promote the health, well-being and self-determination of Black and Indigenous people, and other people of color. The group came together quickly in June.

The next challenge was to organize visible activism. The WC4BL march to protest racism and police brutality took place on June 18. More than 200 learners, faculty, staff and supporters from the school and its partners at Memorial Medical Center and HSHS St. John’s hospital gathered beside 801 North Rutledge in a show of solidarity. They listened to student speakers, observed an 8-minute, 46-second period of reflection and marched around the medical district, all the while following the then-new social distancing guidelines.

AMWA President Katie Lincoln took on a leadership role for the march. “I was raised to stand up for others, and to speak up when I see injustice,” she says. With about 70 members in SIU’s chapter, AMWA added people and passion to the event.

At MSN’s presentation that followed the march, institutional leadership attended in full force, Kelley says. “President Mahony, Chancellor Lane, Dean Kruse, Dr. Constance, Dr. Klamen, Dr. El-Amin, and several faculty mentors and allies came to support this meeting.”

Travis Fulk was also buoyed by the turnout. “It’s good because these aren’t just policies that affect people of color, they affect all of us,” he says. “The power of unity gives us a louder voice to urge the administration to fulfill its mission to become an anti-racist institution.”

As a result of the meeting, MSN students were placed on curriculum committees to help raise awareness about certain outcomes not in alignment with an anti-racist task. Curricular changes were made to PAC sessions. A Health Equity Week is planned for 2021, and the first-year library in Carbondale now has books related to anti-racism and social justice in medicine.

Outreach efforts are also being organized for the new year. Groups within the Marginalized Student Network want to better connect with local communities, bring health initiatives into local churches, assist with mobile clinics in areas with minority populations and initiate mentorship programs at UIS and SIU-C.

The work to combat institutional racism will be ongoing. “Racism is a public health threat,” Worix says. “We have to come together to fight it, and it seems to be working. I’m very proud of SIU for taking some action. We just need them to be accountable and continue to do what they say.”

You can help our students with a donation to offset educational expenses.

Medical Student Resource Fund

SIU White Coats 4 Black Lives Scholarship

Emergency Fund for Medical Students

School of Medicine Scholarship Endowment

To learn more about these support opportunities, visit forwardfunder.siumed.edu.

Six Generations of Family Medicine Care

by Sarah Kinkade | Photography by Sara Way

Dr. Cynthia Thomas

Growing up in Chicago, Cynthia Thomas, MD, didn’t always dream of being a doctor, but she wanted a career where she could help others and excelled at math and science in middle school. After hearing about the shortage of doctors in underserved areas of her community, in high school she decided that medicine was where she wanted to be. While life’s twists and turns moved her out of her Chicago community and to Springfield with her husband, her passion for community and family medicine moved with her.

After graduating from SIU School of Medicine in 1991 and completing her residency in 1994, Dr. Thomas worked at a community health center in Decatur for a few years. In 1997, she joined SIU’s Department of Family and Community Medicine as a faculty member and practicing physician, a role she still has today. She serves 730 patients in the Springfield area.

“Community medicine is really important to me – serving the community and being part of the community,” she says. “You have an opportunity to care for not only an entire person, but the entire family. You learn what genetic conditions cross generations and can help patients learn how their family history has an impact on their health.”

Family and Community Medicine is a field of primary care that allows doctors to treat the entire family. At SIU School of Medicine, our founders saw a need for more primary care doctors in central and southern Illinois more than 50 years ago.

“One of the foundational principles of the SIU School of Medicine was a social accountability to the people of central and southern Illinois,” said Jerry Kruse, MD, MPSH, dean and provost of SIU School of Medicine. “Early on, our region saw a severe shortage of primary care physicians, and thus, we have always had an emphasis on family medicine programs. While we strive to address all the health needs of this area, the continued development of primary care programs and the training of primary care physicians remains a core tenet of our operations and vision.”

Every day, physicians like Dr. Thomas are meeting the needs of a broad range of families. However, it’s somewhat remarkable when a doctor has been the medical care provider for six generations within a single family.

Yet Thomas has done just that. From helping to birth babies to helping the elderly thrive in their golden years, she’s been a reassuring presence for the Holloway family.

Zevernett Holloway, who goes by Zee, is a retired nurse, and knows the importance of the doctor-patient relationship. She started seeing Dr. Thomas at SIU Center for Family Medicine-Springfield many years ago.

“I was the first one in the family to see her,” Holloway says. “At one point, I needed a new doctor and was connected with Dr. Thomas. I was immediately impressed with her attentiveness, and convinced my mother to switch to see her too.”

Dr. Thomas treated Holloway’s mother, Sabreen Abdullah, for many years before she passed earlier this year. As part of residency training in Family Medicine, residents are required to do two “home visits” each year.

“Sabreen was a favorite of the residents; she was so appreciative of our care and loved encouraging the residents to learn while they did home visits to the nursing home,” Dr. Thomas says.

“Mom always told the residents, ‘When you get to be my age, your modesty is gone. So have a look at everything.’ She was very comfortable working with residents,” says Holloway.

Her grandmother also saw Dr. Thomas for a short period prior to her death.

It was a natural fit for Dr. Thomas to take care of more and more of Holloway’s family.

“Dr. Thomas does not leave anything uncovered,” Holloway said. “The most pleasant thing about her is her nature. She treats you like you are her family. Whatever you might want to talk about, she’s going to ask you questions to find out what’s the best outcome for your health. She was also very respectful as my kids got older. She keeps their confidentiality, and she takes the time to address every one of your concerns.”

Holloway has a history of hypertension, or high blood pressure, and regularly discusses this with Thomas.

“For a long time, I didn’t want to take anything for it,” she says. Her reluctance eventually led to an ER visit and a subsequent appointment with Thomas. “She would not even let me drive home that day because my pressure was so high.” Holloway now takes a new medication regularly. “Dr. Thomas followed my every movement very closely during that time.”

Thomas also provided care for Holloway’s three children, Charles, Tameria (Wheatley) and Arteria (Galbreath). As they became adults, the daughters began bringing their children — and eventually grandchildren — to see Dr. Thomas, as well.

Galbreath’s children Fabian Grisby Jr., Zaleigh Grisby (and her three children), and Tyrin Grisby also came to SIU Center for Family Medicine for part of their health care.

As an alumni of the SIU School of Medicine, Dr. Thomas describes how some lessons learned in medical school resonate today.

“At SIU, the introduction to clinical medicine takes place very early in training,” she said. “One thing I love about our programs is the simulated patient experience. It has made medical students and residents comfortable talking to patients and instills the importance of good patient-physician interaction and relationships. I still use some of the tools I was taught years ago in my practice today.”

Retired Nurse Holloway values the spectrum of family care Dr. Thomas has provided through the years, and continues to refer her newest grandbabies to her.

“Dr. Thomas is just the top,” she said. “She always cares about what I am going through.”

Zevernett 'Zee' Holloway

Zee (holding photo of Zee’s mother), grandson Tyrin, granddaughter Zaleigh, daughter Arteria and great-grandchildren Zaniah, Zaraea and JaRon Jr.


Photography by Maria Ansley

Dr. Vidya Sundareshan is interim chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in SIU’s Department of Internal Medicine. She has been a public health resource, medical educator and spokesperson for the school of medicine throughout the 2020 pandemic response. She also serves as the Medical Director at Sangamon County Department of Public Health.

1. You are active on Twitter and have used the hashtag, #istandwithscience. Why is that important right now?

The beauty of science is it ever evolving. We search and “re-search” for the correct answers and the truth. What we consider correct today may be proved to be entirely incorrect at a different time. The truth can be empathic and yet have plurality based on the situation, the interpreter or the field. Teachers, lab researchers, doctors and journalists are all scientists in one way or the other as they all search for the knowledge.

To me the hashtag #istandwithscience is a celebration of my passion for science and what science does for our community and the world. It stands as an expression of the value of science and an invitation to appreciate science and follow the truth. It stands for the open-mindedness to share our research findings and discuss its impact. It means I’m committed to listening, thinking and applying knowledge and respecting its diversity. For me personally, it means that I will support and safeguard the scientific community so we can all continue to critically think, ask questions, evaluate the truth and freely share the information with each other.

2. We are coming through an election year and people are ideologically divided on many issues. What about public health?

Unfortunately, people can be divided ideologically in public health as well. For this reason, it is not as easy as it should be to make policies based on scientific evidence. It is important to make decisions that are evidence-based and not based on personal choices or caprices. Science is a vital piece of a working democracy. It is therefore important to not undermine the evidence or discredit the scientific process.

Science is bipartisan. Many of us have advocated as part of our professional societies for continued support and funding for scientific organizations like the NIH and CDC. The CDC information is credible, valid and freely available. People all over the world rely on it and cite it with confidence. There is tremendous trust of people in these organizations. It is therefore the responsibility of our leaders in science and politics to continue empowering these organizations to pursue scientific evidence, make guidelines for health care professionals and serve as an excellent public resource for presenting complicated information in simple formats that can be easily understood.

3. You were recently promoted to Professor of Medicine. What is your hope for your new role?

Professor of Clinical Medicine is a great honor and I’m grateful for that. Only 20 percent of professors at SIU are women. I’m proud of our institution for recognizing women and encouraging diversity while making decisions on promotions. ​

With this honor comes great responsibility. The Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Internal Medicine is very active in patient care, teaching, research and community service. Our mission is aligned with the department and the school: to provide high-quality care in infectious diseases for people living in central and southern Illinois. We have been able to expand our services further because of telemedicine and our outreach. We offer a fellowship program that trains sub-specialists in infectious diseases. We are physician-scientist-educators. We collaborate with other scientists to use the best evidence-based practices in our practice of medicine.

Our subspecialty of infectious diseases has a lot of public health and community health incorporated into our daily work. As professor of medicine, my goal is to continue to optimally contribute while guiding others in my division and department to collaborate and achieve their goals. Aiming towards excellence in education and patient care, we want to continue to give back to our community locally and regionally.

4. When you are not working to save Sangamon County from COVID-19, what do you do for fun?

My favorite thing to do outside of work is to spend time with my daughters. We love music. We sing together and compose small musical pieces that help me de-stress. We also love to dance. Our family loves movies. I have grown to like the Avengers, Star Wars, Harry Potter and Percy Jackson because of some die-hard fans in my family.

I'm also very active in the Indian community. I serve on the board of directors for the Indian Association of Greater Springfield, where I participate in organizing social events for the Indian community. I also teach Indian classical music and dance to children at Sunday school as time permits.

5. We hear you are passionate about the arts. Can you tell us about that?

I enjoy community theater and support it as best as I can. We go to many shows at the Hoogland and the Muni. Each year we participate as a family in one show. I’m either in the play or help with the production as much as I can. I love working with the directors. Gil and Ann Opferman are my favorites. They are educators and very organized. They work on their production for a whole year after researching. Their scripts are a fun adaptation of a classic story. My entire family was in their last show, ‘Aladdin.’ I played Sherzada. We had a great time at rehearsals and made so many new friends.

I'm extensively trained in Indian classical dance and vocal music. As a teenager, I got to travel to many places in the world with my dance teacher, sponsored by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations. I continue to perform and have recitals at the Hoogland periodically. For many years I have been an invited artist at Springfield’s First Night celebration (a public New Year’s Eve event). I have also presented master classes in Bharatanatyam (Indian classical dance form) for the Springfield Ballet Company.

This was a big part of my life growing up. It’s a whole different side of me that makes me feel fulfilled. I encourage everyone to pursue their hobbies or continue the art forms they have spent so much time learning in childhood.

We will miss colleagues and friends we have lost in 2020, and we extend our sympathy, thoughts and prayers to all who are close to them.

Elvin Zook, MD

Elvin Zook, MD

By Michael Neumeister, MD Elvin Zook Endowed Chair, Institute of Plastic Surgery

Elvin Zook was central Illinois’ first plastic surgeon, the founder of plastic surgery at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield and the division chief from 1973 to 2006. At an SIU Plastic Surgery Alumni dinner in 2015, the conversations quieted as Dr. Zook rose and looked out upon the tables full of current and past plastic surgery residents. All eyes fixed on him, he said, “They asked me today at an interview of icons in plastic surgery, what I thought was my greatest accomplishment as a plastic surgeon.”

He pointed across the room. “I said you.”

This epitomizes Dr. Zook’s leadership as well as the genuine pride he felt for those whom he taught and mentored through the years. His entire career was invested in education.

Born and raised on an Indiana farm in rural Huntington County, Zook first visited Springfield, Illinois, in early January 1973. Dr. Roland Folse had invited the young physician to check out the new community medical school in Springfield where Folse was chair of surgery. Zook was curious but content with his plastic surgery practice at Indiana University Medical Center, his alma mater, and as chief of plastic surgery at the Marion County General Hospital in Indianapolis.

Folse pitched the new institution as fertile ground for a visionary. He believed Zook’s energy, positive personality and passion for surgical education would make him a good fit and strong addition to the SIU faculty. Zook considered the offer and in March 1973 became an associate professor of surgery and chief of plastic surgery at SIU School of Medicine, a position he would maintain for 33 years.

Throughout the ‘70s, Zook led an expeditious regional growth in plastic surgery. He recruited faculty and trained residents for the rigors of the job. Fellow Hoosier Dr. Paul Wavak joined SIU in December 1974 and new resident physicians Ralph Lassa, MD, and Allen Van Beek, MD, started training in ‘76. Dr. Robert Russell began his plastic surgery residency the following summer. Van Beek was offered a faculty position after completing his residency and built one of the first microsurgery labs in the country for research and clinical learning. Lewis Kinkead, MD, joined the division in 1979, and Dr. Russell in July 1980.

Zook also developed a number of plastic surgery service lines for the medical district, including the Congenital Head and Neck Anomalies Clinic in 1973, the SIU Cosmetic Surgery Clinics in 1980 and the multidisciplinary hand conferences in 1982.

By the ‘80s, the Institute for Plastic Surgery had become renowned for providing exemplary care to patients in central and southern Illinois while training the next generation of highly skilled surgeons. Zook had assembled a team that put Springfield in the conversation as a national leader in plastic surgery education and innovation.

Success brought further growth and greater financial and operational independence. In 1990, a partnership with Memorial Medical Center and SIU culminated in the completion of a new home for plastic surgery in the Baylis Building, named for one of Dr. Zook’s favorite hunting sites near Baylis, Illinois.

Zook’s groundbreaking work was published in more than 140 peer-reviewed articles, 60 book chapters and 2 books. In 2006 he served as the inaugural editor-in-chief of HAND, the official journal of the American Association for Hand Surgery. Throughout his career, he also held membership and leadership roles in dozens of professional organizations.

At the time of his retirement to professor emeritus status in 2011, Dr. Zook had graduated 79 plastic surgery residents and recruited and mentored 19 faculty within SIU. Many of these men and women were (or would become) respected leaders in plastic surgery: division chiefs, department chairs, program director and presidents of national medical societies.

Dr. Zook would often tell residents, “If you’re coasting, you are going downhill.” He led by example, working tirelessly to continue learning and teaching the art and craft of plastic surgery. He expected hard work, commitment and drive from those he trained. As us “Zookies” will attest, his dedication and enthusiasm for providing the safest, most comprehensive care for plastic surgery patients was paramount in his training of others.

Dr. Zook is survived by his wife Sharon Kay Neher — they wed during medical school in December 1961 — and their three daughters, Tara Bennett, MD (OB-GYN), Leigh Kreuger, RN, and Nicole Sommer, MD (Plastic Surgery), and seven grandchildren. He will be remembered as a consummate teacher, a brilliant surgeon, mentor, colleague and friend.

► Read the obituary at: https://legcy.co/3gyDpaC

Lyle Wacaser, MD

Lyle Wacaser, MD

Lyle Wacaser was a highly respected neurosurgeon and instructor at SIU School of Medicine. He grew up on a small family farm in Lovington, Illinois. Following his years in school and medical training, he practiced neurosurgery in Springfield. He went into private practice first with his brother, Dr. Larry Wacaser, and later with his wife, Dr. Constance Kayser (’84 alum). He joined the faculty of SIU School of Medicine in the 1970s, ultimately serving as chair of both the Department of Neurology and Division of Neurosurgery. He retired in 2000, renowned for his surgical abilities and sense of humor.

In 1967 Wacaser served his country, joining the U.S. Army Medical Corps as a major in Vietnam. While stationed at the 95th Evac hospital near DeNang, he met Dr. Le Dung, whom he mentored in neurosurgery. They become lifelong friends, and Wacaser returned to Vietnam frequently for humanitarian missions and to visit his friend. His last visit was in 2017.

Read the obituary at: https://legcy.co/3mZW1CU

Gene Brodland

Gene Brodland

In 1973 Gene Brodland was hired as one of the founding psychiatry faculty at SIU School of Medicine. He retired in August 2020 after more than 47 years as an associate professor, licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist. He took leadership roles throughout his career and gained recognition, earning awards from a multitude of organizations including the Who’s Who ‘Professional of the Year’ and Augustana College’s Distinguished Alumnus. He was an accomplished tenor and a member of the Barbershop Chorus, the Springfield Choral Society and the Jacksonville Orchestra Chorale. He was also the president of a bowling league and involved in Springfield’s Junior Football League for many years.

Brodland was profiled in the summer 2010 issue of Aspects [https://bit.ly/2ICpfZz]. His advice on the pointlessness of worrying is evergreen:

“People worry about the future and regret the past. To do that, you have to leave the present. Right now, right this moment, is the only thing we can be doing. Staying in the now helps us to interact more effectively. Living outside of now is really detrimental. We feel better in the present. You can’t change history, and you can’t control the future. It’s OK to plan, but don’t worry.”
Roger Robinson

Roger Robinson

A Remembrance by J. Kevin Dorsey, MD, PhD

In the summer of 1973 members of the charter class and I, a newly hired biochemistry faculty, arrived in Carbondale to begin an innovative experiment in medical education. Dick Moy, MD, the founding dean, was determined to create something better than the education he had been “subjected to.” There would be integrated organ system instruction in the basic sciences, early clinical skills training, no grades and the concept of mastery learning: do it/test it until you get it right. With the three-year, round-the-calendar curriculum starting in Carbondale, one of Dr. Moy’s wisest moves was to recruit a few education specialists to help launch his untested model. Roger Robinson was the quiet leader of those pioneers in medical education.

Joining them was a small cadre of basic scientists willing to try something unique. Both faculty and students were thrust into this new curriculum that was literally being created on the fly, just a few steps ahead of the students. We had all taught typical college courses but none of us were familiar with writing behavioral goals and objectives. Likewise, students had to adjust to a new way of learning. From my perspective, Roger always seemed to be the man in the middle. He could make the pedagogy rational to both the science content module authors as well as to the learners on the receiving end. He was calm and reassuring at a time when metaphors such as “drinking from a firehose” were used to describe student life.

Naturally, there were weeks when everyone involved felt like we were changing tires on a moving car, and Roger’s advice helped guide us through. I can still picture him in curriculum meetings asking rhetorical questions that kept us focused on the big picture. A few years later when I changed careers and became a medical student, Roger again emerged as a steady hand, almost like an older brother who had been in your shoes and knew you could handle the problem. Forty-five years later I can still remember his feedback to me after observing a simulated patient interview that took a turn and was no longer simulated. He helped beginners acquire confidence.

SIU School of Medicine has educational innovation in its DNA, and this has been sustained thanks to the foundation created in those early days in Carbondale when faculty and students who were willing to take risks listened to each other and were gently guided by Roger Robinson.


Class of 1980 Reconnect Virtual Zoom Event October 22

Co-hosts Greg Poland and Jeff Parks led a wonderful virtual reconnection with classmates and discussed career paths, family, their practices and life after medicine.

If your class would like to have a virtual ‘reconnect,’ contact the Office of Alumni Affairs at alumniaffairs@siumed.edu.


Rebecca Johnson, MD, ’78, Chief Executive Officer of the American Board of Pathology (ABPath), will serve as Secretary-Treasurer for the ABMS (American Board of Medical Specialties). She currently serves on the ABMS Committee on Continuing Certification and Vision Commission Advancing Practice Task Force.

Robert Ryan, MD, ’78, "Retired; certifying clients for medical marijuana. Sad to report that my son Todd died unexpectedly in St. Charles, Mo, on January 6, 2020."

Lance Rodewald, MD, ’79, “I'm still in Beijing, now with the China CDC working on vaccines and immunization. I finished work with WHO China and retired from the US CDC in 2018, with a desire to assist the National Immunization Program of China CDC. During my five years with WHO, I loved the mission, the work and my colleagues. Now at China CDC, the mission and the work are almost identical, and I’m working with most of the same people. It has been very busy. The epidemiological situation in China is unusual. SARS-CoV-2 was contained by April 2020, with no subsequent local transmission other than in importation-related outbreaks (Jilin, Beijing, Xinjiang, Dalian and Qingdao) that thus far have been able to be stopped with non-pharmaceutical interventions, especially test-and-trace.”

“Immunization program scientists have been studying and planning about how best to use the emerging COVID-19 vaccines. A great deal is unknown about their characteristics and real-world performance; global knowledge sharing and international collaboration are essential for stopping the pandemic. Once the vaccines become available, they should be able to help lift non-pharmaceutical interventions and make key virus-fighting strategies like test-and-trace and importation prevention easier, safer and more efficient. They should also be able to help protect vulnerable groups, such as healthcare workers and the elderly, and to immunize large populations once supplies increase.”

Dr. Rodewald (seated at far corner of table at right) received the 2012 SIU SOM Distinguished Alumni Award and was profiled in the fall 2012 issue of Aspects.


Gregory Poland, MD, ’80, was featured in the Summer/Fall 2020 volume of the Illinois Wesleyan University Alumni magazine in which he describes events that led him to the present, and shares his insights into the COVID-19 pandemic. Visit the Mayo website to see more updates from Dr. Poland: https://mayocl.in/36YlO9b

Dr. Brian Russell

Brian Russell, MD, ’83, “Welcomed first grandchild. Tried to slow down, couldn't. Opened new office, formed group with Neuro, PAIN: Southeast Neurological Specialists in Tallahassee, Fl. and Thomasville, Ga.

Larry Davis, MD, ’83, is currently serving a one-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the California Anaheim Mission.

Ronald Romanelli, MD, ’83. On September 14, 2020, SIU’s Division of Orthopedic Surgery presented the inaugural Ronald R. Romanelli, MD Trauma Lectureship virtually, featuring Visiting Professor Jesse B. Jupiter, MD.

Douglas Carlson, MD, ’84, SIU Medicine chair of pediatrics, was named to the Illinois Department of Public Health Task Force on Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) Associated with COVID-19 to help investigate the prevalence of this new syndrome in Illinois patients under age 21. Dr. Carlson also received the third-ever certificate awarded by the ABMS and ABP. https://bit.ly/33SuvzK

Mary Stoffel, MD, ’86, completed two years as medical staff president and on the board at Madison Women’s Health, which delivers the most babies of any hospital in Wisconsin. Also finishing 30 years in private independent practice, including a practice she helped found in a community of large medical systems; 10 years and thriving! Planning to cut back to part-time in the fall. She tries to volunteer with arts organizations and a local homeless outreach organization when able and hopes to do more as she works a little less. Weathering the pandemic carefully and safely; hope all are well.


Karla (Polaschek) Van Keulen, MD, ’93, recently married Daryl Van Keulen. Still loves working as an OB/GYN in private practice in Moline.

Nicole Sommer, MD, ’96, has been elected for membership to the American Association of Plastic Surgeons. Less than 1 percent of all board-certified plastic surgeons are selected to join, based on service and contributions to the field.

Frank James, MD, JD ’96, is board certified in general psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, forensic psychiatry and addiction medicine. He was awarded Distinguished Fellow status by the American Society of Addiction Medicine in April 2020 and sits on the Board of Directors.

Dr. Sean Hollonbeck

Sean Hollonbeck, MD, ’97, participated in COVID-19 therapy initial discussion on a multiple site, double-blind randomized clinical trial in June 2020. He also experienced the brunt of Hurricane Sally at his home in Pensacola, Fl. in September.

Manish Kohli, MD, ’97, is senior advisor for the Global Health Solutions practice at Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy and commercial diplomacy firm, expanding the firm’s capabilities in health care transformation. https://bit.ly/33NAndB

Ryan Jennings, MD, ’98, was featured in COVID-19 reporting for Effingham. https://bit.ly/3grC1qf


Brent Michael, MD, ’00, recently became the largest primary care provider in the Santa Monica, California area. https://yhoo.it/3qAEh3h

Robert Hanfland, MD, ’04, and Gwen Erkonen, MD, ’04, moved from Houston to Miami to join Nicklaus Children's Hospital. Gwen left Texas Children's Hospital to continue work as a cardiac intensivist, leading the new Palliative Care program at Nicklaus, where Robert is a congenital heart surgeon.

Amar Chadaga, MD, ’05, associate program director of internal medicine and hospitalist at Advocate Christ Medical Center, was recently recognized as a Notable Health Care Hero in Crain’s Chicago Business. Dr. Chadaga was one of 53 individuals and 32 health care teams to be recognized for making an impact and saving lives on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis.

“My time treating patients in the COVID units was the hardest I've ever worked in my entire life and took a toll on me physically, mentally and emotionally, but I have never felt a stronger sense of purpose,” he said. “The experience has made me more resilient and a more empathetic physician and citizen of this world. I will cherish the bonds I made with my patients and thank them for the lessons they taught me.” https://bit.ly/37MWEcq

Stephanie Christie, MD, ’05, was recognized as Denver’s 5280 Magazine 2020 Top Doctor. Dr. Christie practices family medicine in Arvada, Co. at the New West Physicians Arvada Family Practice Office. https://bit.ly/39ROwuc, https://bit.ly/2VMGXN7

April Moore, MD, ’05, was recently named a fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Moore works at the FHN Family Healthcare Center – Forreston, specializing in women’s healthcare and colposcopy. https://bit.ly/3oxdMdg

Jill Wirth-Rissman, MD, ’05, and spouse, Ryan, welcomed a daughter in May 2020. Dr. Wirth-Rissman started a sports medicine focus in her practice in January 2020.

Briana Menconi, MD, ’09, and her husband, Ken, welcomed their third child, a daughter, in April 2020. “Having a baby during a pandemic is crazy, but we are incredibly blessed."


James Waymack, MD, ’10, was selected for the Springfield Business Journal’s 2020 ‘40 Under 40,’ which annually honors young leaders for contributions to the community.

Mary Sterrett, MD, ’11, “married in 2017 after matching into MFM fellowship in Charleston, SC. Completed my MPH at Johns Hopkins in 2019, and graduated fellowship in 2020. I have an academic faculty position at UW Seattle as a perinatologist to continue research and clinical work in point of care ultrasound for cardiovascular disorders in pregnancy. I am loving the Pacific Northwest life, continue to race cyclocross, run and read in my spare time. I'm hoping to wander into policy and advocacy work as I grow in my career, and am taking advantage of the sustainability and activism culture here as I start my formal employment.”

Christopher Betzle, MD, ’14, starting practice in Kalamazoo, Mi. as an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in adult reconstruction with a focus on anterior hip replacement. He will also serve as a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Western Michigan University Homer Stryker MD School of Medicine.

Craig Wilson, MD, ’15, an orthopedic surgeon with roots in Galesburg, has joined the medical staff at Galesburg Cottage Hospital, providing both nonsurgical care as well as surgical intervention to help his patients recover maximum function.

Matthew Soltys, MD, ’17, will serve as the chief resident of Quality and Safety at the University of Iowa and Iowa City VA Medical Center for the 2020-21 academic year.

Karissa Soltys, MD, ’18, will serve as chief resident at the University of Iowa Pediatrics program in 2021-22.

Seena Tabibi, MD, ’19, had a review paper accepted by the Journal of Intensive Care Medicine for using plasma exchange to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients. Dr. Tabibi was also awarded the Johns Hopkins Safety Star for identifying an inadequately reported anaphylactic transfusion reaction in a pediatric patient in February 2020.

Monica Seadler (Stumpf), MD and Benjamin Seadler, MD

Monica Seadler (Stumpf), MD, ’19, and Benjamin Seadler, MD, ‘19, were married in Springfield on September 6, 2020. Both are in their second years of General Surgery residency at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Alumni Wellness Program

Physician burnout and depression is becoming more prevalent in our society. Excessive workloads, negative workplace culture, poor work/life balance and a perceived lack of autonomy in one’s work and/or study can all contribute to a feeling of isolation. The SIU SOM Alumni Society board has recently established a Physician Wellness Committee to explore ways to assist our alumni, residents/fellows and students.

Learn more about this support system at: siumed.edu/alumniaffairs/physician-wellness


(Helping Our Students To Succeed)

Interview season has begun, but with no travel. Alumni, we will reach out when a fourth-year medical student will be virtually interviewing with a program in your area to introduce and connect you with the learner. You can share your knowledge of the community, medical area and insights.

To learn more visit: siumed.edu/alumniaffairs/host-fourth-year-student


We create a legacy through the people we impact every day – children, friends, colleagues and family – whose lives are richer because of these connections. For Drs. John and Ann Havey, ‘77, SIU School of Medicine is a part of their legacy and we are grateful that they are a part of ours.

The couple recently pledged $1 million from their estate to endow and name the John and Ann Havey Scholarship Fund at SIU School of Medicine.

Their journey together began in the first year of medical school. “We were thinking back to when we had only $125 to our name,” Ann says. “We want to help future generations of students get through those tough years just as we were lucky enough to do.” With an average debt of more than $200,000 at graduation, our medical students need help now more than ever.

The estate gift is an incredibly valuable tool. When realized, it will increase the amount of the scholarship funding to medical students by nearly 25 percent. And, since the corpus of the gift is invested, the annual yield will provide an impact in perpetuity.

A planned gift commitment through the SIU Foundation will enhance the health care of generations to come. It’s also a way to say “thank you” to your professors, classmates, mentors, physicians, nurses or other providers.

Donors may designate gifts to any School of Medicine department, program or scholarship or select from a number of funds that benefit students, faculty and programs across the school.

SIU School of Medicine is a powerful presence in the region, a champion for the health and well-being of the people of central and southern Illinois. This is our legacy. Please consider making SIU School of Medicine a part of yours.

SIU School of Medicine Scholarship Endowed for 50th Anniversary

Throughout the year, supporters of SIU School of Medicine were asked to contribute to the SIU School of Medicine Scholarship in honor of the school's 50th anniversary. We are thankful for the generous support that has allowed us to endow this scholarship to help future medical students fulfill their dreams. Our medical students need your help now more than ever. Help us help our students through the gift of scholarship.

► Donate at forwardfunder.siumed.edu/MedScholarship.

SIU School of Medicine Scholarship dollars raised in 2020 to date: $81,653.31

As we close our 50th anniversary year, we want to say thank you to our generous 50th Anniversary sponsors! We hope to be able to celebrate in person with you all soon!


Dr. Roland Folse


Hospital Sisters Health System

Drs. Clifford Johnson & Cristina Medrano-Johnson, ’94

Dr. Christine Todd, ’93


Drs. Gina Kovach, ’76 and Dave Steward

SIU Family & Community Medicine and Centers for Family Medicine

SIU Medicine Internal Medicine


Drs. J. Eric & Lorie A. Bleyer, ’89

Dr. Diane Hillard-Sembell, ’86 & Mark Sembell

Dr. Holly Novak, ’79

Dr. & Mrs. Terry Travis


Dee Kirby & Friends

Dept. of Population Science & Policy

SIU Medicine Psychiatry

SIU Family & Community Medicine and Centers for Family Medicine

Dept. of Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology

Simmons Cancer Institute at SIU

SIU Medicine Neuroscience Institute