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2018 IAFP Awards

MEDIA CONTACT: Ginnie Flynn, VP of Communications - 630-427-8004 

Chicago (Austin) Doctor is Illinois Academy of Family Physicians 2018 Family Physician of the Year
UIC Doctor is Teacher of the Year

(Elmhurst, Illinois – October 26, 2018) – The Illinois Academy of Family Physicians (IAFP) presented its highest honors: The Family Physician of the Year Award and Family Medicine Teacher of the Year at their annual meeting October 26 at Elmhurst Hospital.

Thomas Huggett, MD, MPH Lawndale Christian Health Center, Chicago
IAFP 2018 Family Physician of the Year

The amazing relationship between family physicians and patients is a cornerstone of family medicine, which sets the specialty apart.  And when selecting the annual IAFP Family Physician of the Year, the IAFP Public Relations Task Force reads many wonderful letters from patients about their family physician.  However, the letters for the 2018 Illinois Family Physician of the Year took amazing courage, candor and the willingness to accept help.

The statements from patients of Lawndale Christian Health Center and residents at Breakthrough Men’s Shelter truly define how a family physician can improve and save lives.  Each of these patients face homelessness and drug addiction, often combined with mental health and chronic diseases.  But each of them was willing to step forward and talk about their family physician to support his nomination for the IAFP Family Physician of the Year.   
At first, I was skeptical because I've tried everything under the sun, but when the first visit was over, I had hope, which I didn't feel like for years. After two weeks I stopped using drugs period and started to see big changes in myself. [Quote from a patient named Peter]

Many of the patients Huggett cares for have a lifetime story of heroin use.  “Heroin has always been here on the west side.  But no one had health insurance and so there was little we could do for them,” Huggett explains.  “Then after the Affordable Care Act, they had access to medications, to providers and to treatment.  Huggett earned the certification for Medication Assisted Treatment and works closely with Behavioral Health counselor Brittany Buckner at Lawndale Christian Health Center to break the grip of heroin addiction.  “People were seeing their friends die, once fentanyl started into the system and they were ready to try. We need both the medication and the behavior health counselors to be successful for them,” says Huggett.  “We as family physicians can’t NOT do this.  We respond to what our community needs; that’s family medicine.”

His work goes well beyond patients, as Huggett has given numerous education presentations on substance abuse, addiction and MAT to communities and medical colleagues over the past two years.  He’s recently been interviewed live on WBEZ Illinois Public Radio about the opioid crisis and also the Chicago Tribune on the obstacles patients face in accessing prescriptions in pharmacy deserts like his West Side community.

Dr. Huggett always makes himself available to us and by us, I mean those of us in this city who are forgotten, ignored, and shunned, most of us have never had a person in the field of medicine who truly care about the entire person, the " good doctor " always greeted me with a firm handshake and a smile on his face and always was an attentive listener of my problems. He always asked about our homelessness situation showing great compassion in ways that instilled hope in a hopeless individual. Many of us were on the course of self-destruction or suicide, but his kindness towards us kept us going. He speaks in on our behalf to the powers that be, he truly brings our plight to those that need to be aware of it. Just go to the street and ask about the "good doctor" on our west side in the Lawndale and surrounding area and you will find many who have contact with him. [Letter from patient named Anthony]

People know the “good doctor” is Thomas Huggett, MD because he lives in their community.  He bought a home in the Austin neighborhood in 2003, and proudly shares that he has paid off the mortgage this year.  His home also includes a rental unit that provides a home to families in the Section 8 program.   Before then, he was renting an apartment in Oak Park, but wanted to be closer to work and the people he was working for, his patients. “I had no car and was riding my bike to work every day.”

The real-estate agent that he chose to help him find his new home – after walking in to his office without any advanced notice – went on to become his agent and his friend.  Five years later, that agent and community-minded activist was elected to the Illinois House and took on the new role as State Representative LaShawn Ford.  Huggett and Ford continue their work, both in the community and in state health policy.  Huggett has served as his health care advisor since he was elected.   They have crafted health policy leading to new laws including expanding HIV screening; increasing use of food stamps in farmers’ markets; preventing childhood obesity; and establishing a Violence Prevention Task Force. Together they are confronting the opioid epidemic through Rep. Ford’s West Side Heroin Task Force. They’ve worked together to establish and promote a walk-in violence mental health center in the community.
Former IAFP Board member Elizabeth Salisbury-Afshar, MD, MPH, FAAFP nominated him for the family physician of the year award. “Tom is someone who practices what he preaches. Although I've never worked with him clinically, we sometimes   discuss challenging cases, and it is   clear the level of empathy he exhibits when caring for patients,” said Salisbury-Afshar in her nomination. “He is also willing to advocate for his patients in a way that many physicians do not have the energy for.”

Ariel Leifer, MD – IAFP Family Medicine Teacher of the Year

Ariel Leifer is only five years out of residency but has already made her mark as an educator at the University of Illinois at Chicago Family Medicine Residency, where she was strongly supported as the 2018 IAFP Family Medicine Teacher of the Year. Dr. Leifer completed her residency training at West Suburban Family Medicine Residency in 2013, after serving as co-chief resident. She joined the faculty at UIC, where she’d also graduated from medical school, and made herself invaluable from the start.

Her teaching roles include pelvic ultrasound for early pregnancy Identification, IUD localization and third trimester pregnancy findings, and Women’s Health Procedures in the residency curriculum.  Her expertise in women’s health is a great asset to her role as the ALSO (Advanced Life Support in Obstetrics) course assistant instructor. She’s also the RHEDI (Reproductive Health Education) site director – which combines formal teaching and clinic supervision of reproductive healthcare procedures, counseling and ultrasound.  She brings her expertise and passion for women’s health issues to the IAFP’s Reproductive Health Care Member Interest Group.

Another key contribution to the resident’s experience at UIC is the presentation by Dr. Leifer on Personal Financial Planning: Starting Out.

At UIC College of Medicine, Dr. Leifer is the preceptor for the third-year family medicine clerkship, an important time for attracting students and delivering them to family medicine. She’s the “Women’s Health in Family Medicine” M4 elective instructor and also teaches a course on chronic disease management and advanced communication skills.

One of her most notable achievements since joining UIC is to make the board exam process better for her residents. She recently took the initiative to comb through 2,160 ABFM In-Training Examination questions, placing each question in its appropriate category, and creating a tremendous board review guide organized by rotation.  Under her oversight of UIC’s residency’s board review program for the last three years, graduates have achieved a 100% pass rate on their board exams.

Dr. Leifer was nominated by then-Chief Resident Andrew Birkhead, MD, who credits her for taking him beyond expectations.  “I have gone from an intern with mixed feelings about maternity care to a chief resident with a strong desire to not only make it a part of my practice but teach it as well. As a mentor, she has helped me find my way to becoming a better learner and now a teacher as well. I hope one day to be half the teacher she is.”

This past summer Dr. Leifer became medical director of the University Village Family Medicine Clinic, where she supervises a busy multidisciplinary family medicine clinic with faculty and resident physicians, clinical pharmacists and nurse practitioners.  

“Family medicine is the way to improve the overall health of our whole country. We need doctors who can work with their patients over years and across clinical settings to understand the challenges patients face in their lives and help guide them to better health,” says Leifer.  “Family medicine is also the specialty most equipped to address the complex needs of the most vulnerable people in our communities from people with limited education to homelessness to substance use disorders.”

Dr. Leifer has garnered many awards since joining UIC, including the UIC Family Medicine Residency Outpatient Preceptor of Year Award and the UIC Department of Family Medicine Faculty Rising Star Award for Junior Faculty.  She currently chairs the advisory committee for the family medicine department at UIC College of Medicine.

Resident Teacher of the Year 2018



Last Updated on Friday, June 25, 2021 01:56 PM