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Department of Family and Community Medicine

Our Specialty

Family Medicine is the foundation of a family’s health care and wellness. Also known as primary care doctors, family physicians provide comprehensive, continuous health care to all members of the family throughout the course of their lives -- from newborns to the elderly, men and women, and all medical problems. The specialty integrates biological, clinical and behavioral sciences.

More information about the Family Medicine specialty.

Make A Difference!

The Department of Family and Community Medicine is supported by funds from private philanthropy and government and institutional grants. While every source of funding is important, private philanthropic support is especially vital to the success of the department.

More about Making a Difference

FCM News Flash - Monthly Newsletter for the Department of Family and Community Medicine

Learn more about the activities and accomplishments of our faculty and staff! The FCM News Flash newsletter archives can be found here.

FCM Archives - Archived Stories from the Department Website 

To read more about recent events in the Department and Family and Community Medicine, click here to access our archived stories page.

Advancing Family Medicine at Northwestern

The Department of Family and Community Medicine was established in 1997 to serve the people of Chicago and the Midwest. The primary mission of the department is to train family physicians and physician assistants to provide outstanding patient-centered, culturally-appropriate care. We seek to become one of the top family medicine departments in the country, providing students, residents, fellows, and faculty with opportunities to develop innovative teaching programs; contribute to the science of health care delivery; and train future leaders of the specialty of Family Medicine.

The department has a number of teams working together to accomplish its primary mission, including Northwestern McGaw Family Medicine Residency at Humboldt Park, Northwestern McGaw Family Medicine Residency at Lake Forest, the Physician Assistant Program located at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine Chicago campus, a pre-doctoral education program focused on training medical students about the specialty of Family Medicine, the National Institute of Health-supported Research Program, the Chicago Community Engagement Program (CCEP), and a strategic opportunity leadership team. 

The Department has built strong relationships with a number of instituitions including Erie Family Health CenterHeartland International Health Center, Heartland Heath Outreach, Norwegian American Hospital, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, Northwestern Medical Group and PCC Community Wellness Center

Never a Dull Moment

After years of doing faculty work in a residency program, running school health centers, and successfully sending her youngest daughter off to college, Dr. Elizabeth Feldman was ready for a change. While many may consider scaling back, pursuing hobbies, or simply focusing on all the things one wanted to do but got lost in the shuffle after entering parenthood, Dr. Elizabeth Feldman went to jail.

To clarify, she works as a primary care doctor for patients who are incarcerated in the Cook County Jail.  At her “empty nest job,” she works with a largely underserved, economically disadvantaged population, many with limited access to medical or dental care prior to incarceration.  Like many of her colleagues she believes medicine should be a tool for social change; “We want to repair the world using our medical tools.”

In fact, a lot of her patients end up healthier after spending time in jail.  “They are clean & sober, they aren’t smoking cigarettes, they’re taking an interest in their health, medications are provided, and they’re monitoring their blood pressure or blood sugar.”  Correctional medicine provides a unique context in that Dr. Feldman has “literally a captive audience - so if they’re interested, it’s really a teachable moment and a great time to start taking a more active role in their own health.”

Many of her patients have chronic conditions – diabetes, hypertension, Hepatitis C, HIV, alcohol-related liver disease, and emphysema to name a few.  She spends 2 days a week in the drug treatment unit in addition to her role caring for women in a dual diagnosis unit for mental health and substance abuse issues.  As their primary care physician she also deals with gyne matters and post-incarceration family planning.

“I find that almost to a person that the patients I take care of are incredibly grateful. They often say ‘thank you so much for explaining that,’ because, let’s face it, they haven’t always been able to access the highest quality healthcare and when they were going in they might’ve not been very cooperative patients to take care of.  So now they are sitting there and thinking about their health, they’re anxious and worried, and if you even just do a basic explanation of what is going on I get such gratitude back…it’s really rewarding.”

Situations in jail change quickly. One moment you might be doing one thing and then suddenly “you get pulled to cover in a different area that you’ve never been in before.” With an air of nonchalance she says, “Being flexible is important. You have to roll with the punches.”  But it’s adaptability that’s served her well.  “In general, having chosen Family Medicine as a specialty has allowed me to recreate myself many times over.”

As for advice to medical students, she recommends having a life outside of medicine.  In her spare time she’s active in an alternative Jewish community, enjoys yoga, cooks vegetarian food, and decompresses with friends and family.

A Day in the Life of a Resident

I find morning signout on our inpatient service to be exciting.  When you work in a small safety-net hospital, nights can be something of an adventure, and the night float resident always has a new story to share.  The patients we serve often come with unique sets of challenges; at any given time on our service, you will find some patients that are uninsured or undocumented, suffering from addiction, housing insecure, illiterate, or any combination of the above.  This is all on top of working with advanced stages of disease that come from years without access to care.

Take a quick trip across a vibrant, lively neighborhood to our clinic, and you will find the same vulnerable patient population, but in a slightly different setting.  We have the benefit of training in a Federally Qualified Health Center, surrounded by efficient teams of providers all dedicated to combatting healthcare disparities.   While clinic days always have a few well-child checks or prenatal visits, patients with complex medical and/or social needs are seen and cared for daily.

Inpatient or outpatient, the challenges of working in an underserved community are ever-present.  To me, these challenges represent opportunity: increased access to care, patient advocacy, healthcare system changes…the list goes on.    These are exactly the kinds of issues I hoped to learn more about during the course of my residency, and I feel lucky every day when I go to work.

- Dr. Paul Ravenna, MD, Class of 2015

Dr. Elizabeth Ryan Published in American College of Surgeons!

Elizabeth Ryan, EdD and Vice Chair for Education in the Department of Family and Community Medicine, has published an article that is currently available at the American College of Surgeons Division of Education website. 

Entitled "Optimize Learning with Enhanced Video-Conferenced Presentations," the article "offers six helpful tips on how to deliver an effective video-conferenced presentation that engages your target audience and makes your presentation memorable. Specifically, the article defines characteristics of effective presenters and gives advice on how to plan and deliver a video-conferenced presentation that optimizes learning."

Dr. Ryan has had much experience maximizing the educational benefits of technology through learning experiences. In 2007 until 2011, she taught online and in person for the Northwestern School of Continuing Studies, designing a Master's in Medical Informatics Capstone course. Most recently, she has redesigned the course so that it may be delivered asynchronously. With her expertise in marrying technology and theory, she also worked to develop the Research Education and Service learning Initiative (RESLI) , which "delivers online professional development programs to residents, community clinicians and other health professionals and provides support and infrastructure needed to productively engage in scholarly activity."

When asked about the the importance of technology in teaching, Dr. Ryan stated, "There are a lot of faculty teaching today who didn't grow up with computers in the same way as their students. It's not that teachers must use technology to educate, but that teachers should have an idea of the way that their learners process information, so that they communicate on the same level.  

"In the RESLI model, students work on learning modules on their own, and then come together to learn as a community. In this case, we would assign technology to preteach, in the same way an instructor might assign a book chapter to read before class."

Dr. Ryan is positive about the future of using technology to educate. "We are moving towards blended distance learning as a framework. We just have to be mindful of how we use technology, so that we are making sure to always advance knowledge, and not get caught up in the bells and whistles."

Click here to view Dr. Ryan's article online!

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This page last updated 

July 23, 2014
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Family and Community Medicine
Abbott Hall, 4th Floor | 710 N. Lake Shore Drive | Chicago, IL 60611-3006
Phone: 312/503-1273    Fax: 312/503-1377
Email: fcm@northwestern.edu
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