STFM Is My Most Precious Membership

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Evelyn Figueroa, MD

I have learned so much from its people, meetings, collaboratives, group projects, and online resources. STFM’s mission is my professional mission – to advance the health of our patients through education. STFM was the first place where I found mentors that looked and sounded like me. It has created the space for me to find and develop my professional identity and learn so much more beyond the physical medicine promoted in medical school. My involvement in STFM has provided repeated opportunities to learn and expand my reach in health care education.

Like many members, STFM is my happy place, a place where I can recharge and stretch. After each spring meeting I normally return to Chicago with a list filled with new ideas to build into my university work. Its work on health equity and social responsibility inspired me to develop curricula and clinical programs aimed at addressing health conditions related to food insecurity, homelessness, and drug use. What is so special about STFM is that it gave me the tools to advocate and integrate concepts related to bias in healthcare such as racism, sexism, heterosexism, and privilege into my everyday teaching and patient care. Family medicine thought leaders like Camara Phyllis Jones and Warren Ferguson have given me the courage to disrupt and push for more humanistic and equitable care.

Between meetings STFM maintains its connection and I feel its support. My distance peer mentors Ed Figueroa (my “brother from another mother”), Judy Washington, and Jo Brown Speights taught me about how to provide quality mentoring to underrepresented minority physicians. On the Board of Directors, we explored what responsibility STFM as an organization has in providing social determinants of health training in substantial and sustainable ways. How validating it has been to feel the support of our entire organization in issues that matter to the community I serve so strongly!

So now here I am, a family physician activist in academic medicine pivoting my work towards health equity training in medical education. In 2017, with my incredibly supportive partner Alex Wu and our children, we started the Figueroa Wu Family Foundation. Our main project is the UI Health Pilsen Food Pantry, a program that has distributed more than 300,000 pounds of healthy food and household items to nearly 10,000 visitors since opening in January 2018. This open-access pantry operates 20 hours a week and is staffed by community, student, and resident volunteers. Our pantry teaches about bias, inequity, and food justice while providing an important service to the community. The pantry also serves as a learning laboratory to help students preserve their humanism while keeping patients at the center. With the help of medical students, we are developing a medical legal partnership to further advocate for our patients. Chicago is a place of excess where there is enough for everyone. I am trying to engage with the UIC community in order to help the overlooked and marginalized be heard and recognized.

I am not sure I would have found my professional voice without STFM. I appreciate all that STFM keeps teaching me about the power of family medicine. I want to be the physician my patients deserve and STFM is an integral part of my motivation and inspiration.

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