The Provident Foundation
1525 East 53rd Street
Suite #451
Chicago, IL 60615

Board Member Spotlight: Jim Woodruff, MD

What is your profession and what does it entail?
I’m a medical educator working at the University of Chicago (U of C). What that means is I take care of patients during part of my week, and the rest of my week, I help train the physicians of the future. My title is Dean of Students for the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago.

How long have you served at the University of Chicago?
I’ve been at the University of Chicago since 1992. I went to medical school at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and graduated in 1992. I came here to the U of C for my internal medicine residency and chose to stay on after my training in general internal medicine. Over the last 25 years, I’ve held various jobs as a medical educator, taking care of patients and training students and residents.

Are you from Chicago?
I spent most of my youth in New York City, and basically lived and went to college on the East Coast before coming out to the Midwest in 1992. I’ve lived in Chicago ever since. I married another physician that I trained with. We live in Hyde Park and we have three kids.

Why did you get involved with the Provident Foundation?
I was drawn to this role because I’ve been interested in care for the underserved ever since I was in medical school. I worked a portion of my medical school career at Harlem Hospital in New York City. 1991 and ’92 were the peak of the HIV epidemic, and New York was facing difficult times financially and didn’t have the resources at that municipal hospital to provide good care. But despite that, I saw a number of young physicians there, many of them young African American physicians, who had trained at outstanding medical schools across the country and could have simply pursued either lucrative or successful private practice or academic careers, ignoring what was going on in Harlem, but they chose to invest five years or so of their lives working in Harlem trying to address the acute needs of the neighborhood. I found these young physicians inspiring and wanted to go to an academic medical center that could provide me both the opportunity to pursue an academic career and take care of underserved patient populations. It turned out that the University of Chicago was an ideal location.

And so, when the Provident opportunity came up, I recognized it as another opportunity to train young people who had a strong interest in taking care of the underserved, and to do that with a group of people who were connected with the Chicago school system. Since I’ve arrived at the Provident Foundation, I’ve found that opportunity is indeed an excellent one.

Tell us about your work at Provident.
I see my responsibilities at the Provident Foundation in several ways. When I was recruited, the Foundation needed to get back on its feet and become more active again. So part of my responsibilities are providing advice to our board chairperson, Myetie Hamilton, and supporting her in efforts to rejuvenate the organization and make it financially sound. But as we’ve accomplished some of that and have started to get the financial wherewithal to invest in programming, I see my role as helping to build out some of the pipeline programming that involves two areas. One is engaging partners like HPREP to create robust health professions programming for high school students. The second area of focus has been a restructuring of the established Provident scholarship program to provide, not just financial resources to high school and college students on the south side of Chicago, but to also provide longitudinal mentorship and support as they aspire to become nurses and physicians.

What do you see as the biggest challenges of the board at this time, and what are the greatest opportunities?
I think the past three years have been a huge success. The success has been getting the organization back on its feet and getting the word out about its existence, and the development of a number of partnerships that are important to the Foundation including relationships with the U of C, the International Museum of Surgical Sciences, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and partners like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBS). These have been really important first steps to accomplishing robust programming on the south side.

I think we’ve arrived at a point where the next natural step is to tap into fundraising beyond the individual donor with more robust funding from partners like BCBS, as well as grants from foundations to expand our existing program and create new programming.

More than ever, it is clear that we need pipeline programming to really provide for neighborhoods like those on the south side of Chicago. This is true, especially with what is going on in Washington and with the financial situation of the city and the state. This is not something that is going to be addressed by government, it's going to have to be done by communities in partnership with nonprofit organizations, and that’s us.

I also think another opportunity is our recent recruitment of additional board members. I think new blood to our board will help us diversify our work and energize the outreach and development that we’ll be doing.

What would you like to see in the next 5 years for the Provident Foundation? What’s a vision that motivates you?
In the next five years, I would like to see us expand our current programming dedicated to recruiting young people interested in health professions from high school and college, and build elementary school programming. Expansion of those programs would include increased numbers of students and more formal mentorship pathways. This will likely include partnerships with more than one institution. Right now, most of the activity is at the UC Medicine, but the University of Illinois is the largest medical school in the country, and that is potentially a huge resource.

What is one message that you would want to share with our community of supporters who will be reading this?
The work that we’re doing is not only very important for the reasons we’ve already discussed, but is exciting and incredibly inspiring. The opportunity to encourage and support young people in their endeavor to pursue careers that impact their community is a wonderful experience that is rewarding on a personal level as well as a professional level. We would encourage all of them to be as involved in this as deeply as they feel comfortable. And we hope that they choose to do so. That involvement could be purely financial, it could be as mentors for these promising young people, or simply moral support to an organization that’s striving to impact some of the most challenged communities here on the south side of Chicago.

When asked what he does in his spare time, Jim shared that he enjoys spending time with his family, helping his kids realize their full potential, and working on his prairie land in Southwest Michigan that he began cultivating in 2011. You can follow his prairie land journey on his YouTube channel, “The Prairie Orchard.”

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