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Englewood Upbringing Energizes Doc

Patient gratitude best reward

By Scott Warner

Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood today is regarded as one of the most impoverished and violence- ridden enclaves in the city. Yet it was this Southside community that spawned and help shape the values of Myrtis Sullivan, MD. A former director of the pediatric emergency department at Cook County Hospital, and current president of the Cook County Physicians Association, Dr. Sullivan has devoted her life to caring for patients desperately in need of health care, and to mentoring medical students. And it was her childhood in Englewood where Dr. Sullivan said she learned what it meant to care for others.

“I have fond memories of growing up there,” Dr. Sullivan says of the predominantly African-American neighborhood. “It was a different community, in the 1950s and 60s. No such thing as drive-by-shootings then. There were lots of children; we knew each other, we walked to school together. Everybody played outside. If you tried to stay inside, your mother said, ‘play outside.’ Most of our moms stayed at home, and our dads worked. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had a sense of community.”

Dr. Sullivan excelled in school and was valedictorian of her Englewood High School class. She said she always wanted to do something to help people, and had dreams of becoming a criminal lawyer, so she could help people who were innocent. But at the age of 17, she changed her mind when she got a summer job as an office assistant at Wesley Memorial Hospital, a predecessor to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. She felt she wanted to help the sick and impoverished. She also saw only one African-American doctor on staff and became determined that she, too, would be a physician.

She majored in biology at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, earned her MD at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. She said she felt an affinity for children, and did her residency in pediatrics at Cook County Hospital, known not only for its grueling regimen, but also for the outstanding training it provided. She felt electrified by the care she could provide the impoverished, and the gratitude they expressed. “Parents told me that this was the first time anyone examined their child from head-to-toe.” She stayed for more than two decades and was director of County’s pediatric emergency department, and helped train doctors from many different countries. “Those were the best years of my life,” Dr. Sullivan said, “and I learned more than anybody could imagine,” although she says she found it “extra challenging” to work on the child abuse team.

In 2010, Dr. Sullivan retired from 32 years of public service, after working for Cook County Hospital, UIC and the State of Illinois. She now works part-time as medical director of Next Level Health Partners where she’s involved with medical necessity reviews for Medicaid beneficiaries and says she relishes her role as president of the Cook County Physicians Association. This local chapter of the National Medical Association represents African-American physicians and their patients. One of their tasks is to provide mentorships to medical students, answering questions about how to apply for residencies, discussing roadblocks they might encounter, and how to prepare for challenges in life. But mostly she reminds them to stay the course. “Keep your compassion,” she tells them, “and remember why we went into medicine in the first place: to give people the best care possible.”

9/12/16r. Sullivan’s Career Highlights

After receiving her MD from the UIC, Dr. Sullivan also earned her MPH at the UIC School of Public Health, where she is currently an adjunct clinical associate professor. Dr. Sullivan also served as a clinical assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at the UIC College of Medicine. She has published numerous articles on pediatrics in books and journals. And while not a career highlight, Dr. Sullivan considers her two daughters as her lifetime highlights: daughter Stephanie is an emergency medicine physician in California, and Elizabeth has a PhD in geophysics and chemistry.


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