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Written by Ginnie Flynn   

2021 Distinguished Service Award – Deborah S. Clements, MD, FAAFP

Dr. Clements is a truly inspiring story. She was once a young, widowed mother of three seeking a transition to medical school. Yet she was told back then that she should probably “think about a different path.” Fortunately, that voice was wrong; and at the encouragement of a nursing school instructor later in her life, Deborah enrolled in medical school at the age of 33 and there was no stopping her after that. Now she’s a recognized leader in family medicine and a strong presence in local and national organizations. And a dog-loving, sports fan, motorcycle enthusiast! Because of her incredible leadership in elevating family medicine, expansion of family medicine education in Illinois and unending devotion to every patient who sees her, Deborah S. Clements, MD, FAAFP is honored with the IAFP Distinguished Service Award.

The Distinguished Service Award is given at the discretion of the IAFP Public Relations Task Force and commends exceptional members for outstanding contributions across the career spectrum, including leadership, education and patient care. IAFP last bestowed this award in 2019 to Mathew Winkleman, MD of Harrisburg. Prior to that, the award was given in 2017 to Ellen S. Brull, MD of Glenview, 2015 to Thomas Miller, MD of Quincy, 2012 to Paul Luning, MD and also to William Neil, MD. Dr. Luning also received the AAFP Distinguished Service Award in 2013. The award was given in 2006 to Thomas Cornwell, MD. In 2005 James Lang, M.D. of Chicago was honored with the Distinguished Service Award and in 2004 Roy T. Rapp of Quincy was honored.

She was nominated by her former resident, IAFP board member Anna Shannahan, MD. Under Dr. Clements' guidance, the Feinberg School of Medicine has expanded from one to three family medicine residencies. As a result, those medical students' exposure to the field has flourished.
Shannahan credits Clements’ ability to win her over throughout her medical career. “When I started at Northwestern's medical school, I was immediately interested in family medicine. However, the school did not have much exposure to the specialty at the time. Luckily, Dr. Clements arrived to chair the department while I was a medical student there. Her mentorship kept me motivated and inspired to pursue the specialty which I now love so dearly. In fact, her guidance and vision made such a difference to me that I stayed at Northwestern for residency and am now a proud family medicine attending there.”

Dr. Clements medical career began working for the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and then as a professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center Family Medicine residency program. However, the chance to build the future of family medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine provided the perfect reason for the Chicago native to return home in 2013 and take on the challenge. In 2015 she was elevated to the Nancy and Warren Furey Endowed Professor of Family Medicine.

Dr. Clements is a familiar face not only in Illinois, but also nationally as a regular contributor to AAFP, on commissions and as a repeated presenter at AAFP National Conference for Residents and Medical Students. She has served on the boards of The National Residency Match Program (NRMP) and the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine (STFM); and is also President of the Association of Family Medicine Residency Directors, chair of the Council of Academic Family Medicine, and past chair of the Organization of Program Director Associations.

“If you could only see how she works in guiding resident practice, advocating for their needs, making herself available to address concerns and graduating successful family practice physicians. It is because of her leadership that patients, physicians, nurses and the inter-professional team seek her guidance, direction and clinical education to support exceptional practice and exemplary outcomes in managing the health of our community,” says Denise Majeski MSN, RN, ACM,NE-BC, Vice President of Operations/Bernthal Chief Nurse Executive at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital. “Her work in establishing this residency program has graduated physicians who continue to practice in the underserved areas of the county.”

While many think of Lake Forest as an affluent community, the hospital provides care for many underserved residents throughout the region. These underserved residents became a prime driver for Dr. Clements to partner with Erie Family Health Centers to establish a federally qualified health center (FQHC) in Waukegan. Dr. Clements staffed the FQHC with residents and gave these patients access to high quality healthcare. For first time, many of these patients were able to establish a relationship with a primary care physician.

Matt Flynn, is both patient and a former professional colleague of Dr. Clements. “Over the past six years, Dr. Clements experienced with me the birth of my second granddaughter and the loss of both my parents. I felt emotional support from Dr. Clements that I have not experienced with any other physician. I believe she has cared for me as a person. The compassion that she showed for those most in need, the underserved, was now the same compassion she was showing me. This is the same compassion that she looks for in, and teaches, to her residents. The next generation will be in excellent hands with Dr Clements’ leadership. I once read, the highest compliment you can give another human being is to trust them with your care. I trust Dr. Clements,” he wrote in a support letter to IAFP.

“Dr. Clements sets the standard for family medicine as a role model for her trainees and practicing physicians. Deb is well known in the community as a wonderful physician who cares for her patients and their families with compassion and great clinical skill. She models the ideal family physician in her daily patient interactions,” says Jeffrey Kopin, Senior Vice President North Region for Northwestern Medicine. “Northwestern traditionally was not known as a Family Medicine-friendly academic medical center. Deb changed that. Through her tireless efforts, Family Medicine now proudly stands as an important medical discipline at a world-class health care system.”

IAFP President Tabatha Wells, MD, FAAFP presented the award to Dr. Clements during a Northwestern meeting on October 21 so that her colleagues and residents could share in the celebration in the room or via Zoom.  At that event, Dr. Clements said, "Receiving this award falls squarely in the category of 'amazing things you never thought would happen.' I believe that if you’re lucky, as you age, the list of amazing things you never imagined would happen gets longer and longer."  She went on to share her gratitude for the residents and students she's met and mentored along the way. "One of my greatest joys in life is witnessing the unfolding of the careers of our students and residents. You give me a reason to do this job every single day. You give me hope for our future in family medicine. I wish all of you more amazing things than you can even imagine."

Dr, Clements and her husband, Walt, live in Highland Park with their dog Biscuit and share seven children: Lisa, Tyler, Greg, Lauren, Marie, Matt and Madison.

Read more about Dr. Clements in this Northwestern News Center article.  The first three photos in this post were provided by Northwestern Medicine. 


Last Updated on Friday, October 29, 2021 05:59 PM