Eric E. Whitaker, MD, MPH, a nationally recognized public health authority, expert on minority health issues and, in his own words, "country doc" for some of the city's poorest communities, has been appointed Executive Vice President for Strategic Affiliations and Associate Dean for Community-Based Research, a new position at the University of Chicago Medical Center, effective October 1, 2007.
Whitaker, 42, comes to the Medical Center from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), where he has served as Director since 2003--overseeing 3 state labs, 7 regional offices, 200 programs, 1,200 employees and a $420 million budget. Under his direction, from 2003 to 2007, the agency brought a new level of commitment to public health, with special emphasis on emerging issues such as bioterrorism and emergency preparedness, as well as health disparities, patient safety and creation of the Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute to support stem cell research.
Prior to that Whitaker was a senior attending physician at Cook County Hospital and founder and director of Project Brotherhood, an innovative, award-winning barbershop-based program designed to improve the often-neglected health of African-American men.
"Eric Whitaker has an unrivaled track record for understanding the broader health care needs of the underserved and finding imaginative and remarkably effective ways to meet those needs," said Jim Madara, M.D., Chief Executive Officer of the University of Chicago Medical Center, Dean of the Division of Biological Sciences and University Vice President for Medical Affairs. "He understands how people with fewer resources make decisions about their health, how to lead people toward better decisions and how to put programs in place--on the personal level as well as the state level--to make it all work."
Whitaker will be a key player in implementing the Urban Health Initiative (UHI), the University of Chicago Medical CenterŐs long-range plan to build and maintain a network of partnerships and mutually beneficial relationships throughout the community to provide superior care for patients, advance community-based clinical research and broaden medical education.
Whitaker will work closely with Medical Center senior leadership to set up strategic alliances necessary to create and sustain the UHI, secure government and private sources of financing, and build patient confidence in and familiarity with the proposed network of closely connected yet independent health care providers--a system designed to improve access, quality, efficiency and coordination of health care services in the community.
"The University of Chicago Medical Center has demonstrated an ongoing, and increasing, dedication to the rigorous intellectual pursuits of academic medicine as well as an unfailing commitment to improving the health and well being of those who reside on the city's south side," Whitaker said. "This position appealed to me as an opportunity to make a real and lasting difference in the lives of thousands of Chicagoans.
"In the United States, thanks to our world-renowned research centers, we have access to the best medical care in the world, but not everyone has the same access and not all of our health care resources are being used efficiently. I see my role as trying to find new and innovative strategic ways to reduce health care disparities and inequities."
A graduate of Grinnell College and the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Medicine, Whitaker also earned a masters degree in health policy and management from the Harvard School of Public Health and studied health services management at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management and corporate strategy at the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business. While in medical school, he served as president of the American Medical Student Association, where he helped found a similar organization for European medical students and testified twice before the U.S. Congress on issue of health insurance and minority health issues.
He completed his residency in internal medicine at the University of California at San Francisco in 1996 and then served a two-year fellowship in the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program at the University of Chicago. While an attending physician at Cook County Hospital, he joined the faculty at Rush Medical College in 1996 as an instructor in medicine and in 2000 became an assistant professor of medicine and then of preventive medicine. In 2003, he left Rush and joined the faculty at The University of Illinois at Chicago's School of Public Health.
Whitaker gained national attention as founder and director of Project Brotherhood: A Black Men's Clinic. In 1998, he developed a new clinical model for African American males that combined health care and disease prevention with vocational and spiritual guidance, all in the setting of a barbershop. Using the lure of free haircuts to bring in African American men--who despite high rates of preventable disease and premature death tend not to seek regular medical care--this widely recognized south side clinic brings primary care services, health advice, wellness programs, and emotional and spiritual support to thousands of black men.
Whitaker has won many awards and honors from national health care associations, including the American College of Physicians, the Society of General Internal Medicine and the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Centers. His devotion to the underserved has brought him other recognition, such as the Health Care Heroes Award from the Access Community Health Network, the Leonidas H. Berry Award from the Cook County Physician Association, the Pioneer Award from the Crossroads Coalition and election to Leadership Greater Chicago.
He lives on Chicago's south side with his wife, Cheryl, their son, Caleb, and daughter, Caitlin.