Why Community Engagement Matters to Us

Recently, I joined nearly 200 Northwestern Medicine faculty, students, staff and community partners at the Lawndale Christian Community Center on Chicago’s West Side to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Alliance for Research in Chicagoland Communities (ARCC). Born out of our Center for Community Health, the ARCC was created to catalyze and support community engagement across the research spectrum to improve health and health equity.

Surrounded by colleagues from the medical school, our hospital affiliates and the diverse collaborators they work with across the city — from community, faith and advocacy-based organizations to public agencies like the Chicago Department of Public Health and Chicago Public Schools — I was struck by what we have accomplished together in the past decade. Our partnerships have led to actionable findings and in turn new public policies, community programs, training opportunities and multi-million dollar grant funding for deeper investigations.

Eric G. Neilson, MD
Vice President for Medical Affairs
Lewis Landsberg Dean

For me, the event was a tangible example of how we at Northwestern live our mission to improve human health beyond the individual patient. Community engagement is an essential part of the work that we do; it guides our research, fosters inclusive education and advances equitable access to leading-edge clinical care in ways that maximize the health and well-being of all people in Chicago, the state of Illinois and beyond.

Every day our faculty, staff, trainees and students embody this thinking: They conduct research in partnerships with community members and stakeholders who help us understand the needs of the diverse neighborhoods and populations we serve. They engage learners from underrepresented populations in STEM activities, empowering them to seek careers in science and medicine. They travel off campus to provide clinical care to people who don’t have easy access to an academic medical center like ours.

Community engagement: a process for working collaboratively with stakeholders, such as patients, healthcare providers, public health leaders, policymakers and communities.

In this issue of Northwestern Medicine magazine, we share the stories of several of these community engagement efforts. We highlight a component of our MD curriculum that embeds students in areas of primary care shortage, where they provide longitudinal primary care to low-income, underinsured and uninsured patients under the guidance of attending physicians. We learn about the Northwestern Medicine Hispanic Transplant Program, which serves Spanish-speaking patients in a culturally sensitive way that has reduced some of the disparities that exist between ethnicities. We also interview Melissa Simon, MD, MPH, director of our new Center for Health Equity Transformation, who has made health equity across populations the focus of all the work she does.

In this complex and busy world, I am continually awed by our faculty, alumni, trainees and students and the way they instinctively engage with the communities that surround us both near and far. Some do this through partner organizations, while others have launched official programs through the medical school. Particularly touching are those who use their personal time to provide service to free medical clinics and outposts in Chicago or around the world. I thank all of you who participate in the work of community engagement with pride and passion and look forward to seeing what future partnerships will bring.

With warm regards,

Eric G. Neilson, MD
Vice President for Medical Affairs
Lewis Landsberg Dean

LEARN MORE: Visit our website for more stories about our community-engagement efforts.