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Written by Ginnie Flynn   
Tuesday, October 24, 2023 11:02 AM

IAFP Presents 2023 Academy Awards

Media contact:  Ginnie Flynn, Vice President of Communications email or phone 773-754-1185

(October 27, 2023– CHICAGO, Illinois) The Illinois Academy of Family Physicians (IAFP) members and leaders gathered near McCormick Place to install the new board of directors and present four IAFP Awards. This event was held in conjunction with the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) Family Medicine Experience (FMX) to capitalize on the attendance at the nation’s largest gathering of family physicians.  Originally scheduled for Chicago in 2020 and cancelled by COVID, the AAFP was able to reschedule McCormick place to host Congress and FMX just three years later.   

President’s Awards 
The IAFP President of the previous year chooses this award from among members or organizations that have had a profound impact on the President personally or advanced the Academy’s mission in the past year.  Timothy Ott, DO, FAAFP selected the following two members for 2023 President’s Awards.  Just a note:  Dr Ott chose to honor and continue the tradition of the prior year's president, Tabatha Wells, MD who made our 2022 Academy Awards presentation truly fancy with costume changes and tiaras. 

Michael Connolly, MD 

Dr. Connolly is the Medical Director of SIU Center for Family Medicine – Quincy and an associate professor of Family Medicine at SIU School of Medicine.  He graduated from Rush Medical University of Chicago and completed his family medicine residency training at the SIU Center for Family Medicine in Springfield.  

Dr. Ott called out Dr. Connolly’s work in bringing Medication Assisted Treatment for substance use to the SIU Family Medicine Residency programs and also to many rural Central and Southern Illinois areas, enabling access to crucial addiction treatment and recovery services to Illinoisans throughout the region. 

“Your dedication also ignited my own passion for Addiction Medicine.  Your mentoring is the reason that substance use disorder care has become a very rewarding part of my practice.”

Given the ongoing overdose and addiction epidemic that plagues all areas of the nation, rural regions are in particular need of health professionals and physicians trained to provide access and ongoing treatment for addiction and substance use disorders. Medical assisted treatment is among the most effective strategies available.

Christopher Veal, MD

Dr. Veal is a resident physician at Carle Foundation Hospital Family Medicine Residency in Urbana, Illinois and joined the IAFP board of directors as its Resident Board Member in July. Dr. Veal embodies boundless enthusiasm for family medicine. He also demonstrated exceptional leadership and advocacy for trauma-informed care with his introduction of a successful resolution at the 2022 AAFP Resident Congress as the Illinois Resident Delegate.  He continued with his dedication to family medicine at the 2023 IAFP Spring into Action advocating in the Illinois General Assembly.

His vocal outreach, education and advocacy for compassionate, high-quality health care for all people fosters understanding.  This summer he did a radio interview with NPR’s “The 21st Show” about what exactly is gender affirming care for adults. He delivered the Keynote presentation at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Symposium on Suicide Prevention for LGBTQ+ Youth on June 30. In September he provided the IAFP Health Equity Member Interest Group CME presentation on gender affirming care.

Vincent D. Keenan Award for Servant Leadership
Arvind K Goyal, MD, MPH, MBA, FAAFP

Established in 2022, the award is selected by the IAFP Board of Directors from nominations contributed by IAFP members. Named for the IAFP’s long-serving chapter executive Vincent D. Keenan, CAE who retired in 2020, the award recognizes outstanding Illinois physicians in public health who embody one or more of the following qualities:

  • Dedicates career to public health.
  • Has worked or led public health initiatives beyond their normal practice in service to their community.
  • Improves population-level health outcomes through their work.
  • Works to enhance health equity through ongoing initiatives within the workplace or their community.

Dr. Thomas Huggett nominated Dr. Goyal for his depth, breadth, and record of service to the people of Illinois in a myriad of roles. As the Medical Director at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services since 2012, he is among the longest serving state Medicaid Directors in the United States. In addition, his leadership in the American Association of Public Health Physicians illustrates our specialty’s universal pursuit of optimal physical and mental health. Family physicians know this to be “wellness.”

Before moving to large scale administrative roles, Dr. Goyal was best known as the quintessential family physician as president of the solo practice Family Doctor, Ltd in Rolling Meadows for 30 years. Dr. Goyal has been a long-invested member of IAFP for decades.  He was also the IAFP Family Physician of the Year in 2001 and received a President’s Award from 2003 for his advocacy in IAFP’s tobacco prevention advocacy along with his own work in his Rolling Meadows Community and beyond.  He served as the IAFP Foundation’s board chair as well.

He is known for innovative approaches to delivery of equitable healthcare to vulnerable populations. He is also a celebrated family doctor, and a tested leader of medical associations, non-profit boards, and community organizations.  These organizations include:

  • Institute of Medicine of Chicago-President and Chair of Board
  • American Association of Public Health Physicians-President (Also Delegate to AMA House)  Illinois State Medical Society-President (Also Delegate to AMA House)
  • Chicago Medical Society/Medical Society of Cook County-President & Chair of Board
  • Illinois State Medical Licensing Board-Chair
  • American Medical Association’s Section Council on Preventive Medicine-Chair
  • American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin-Speaker of Governing Body Assembly
  • Northwest Community Hospital Medical Staff-President
  • American Cancer Society Illinois Division Board OF Directors
  • National Commission to End Racial & Ethnic Healthcare Disparities Sponsored by AMA, NMA, HMA with support of the Federal Office of Minority Health  
  • He received the Indian American Medical Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021

He is also a family man, dedicated to his wife Renu and his growing family. He says he has a passion for reading, writing, listening, and sometimes speaking...  His presence and contributions at IAFP have always included eloquence, kindness, respect and humility.

Family Medicine Teacher of the Year
Rhonda Renee Verzal, MD – University of Illinois at Rockford

Dr Verzal was nominated by her colleague Dr. Joseph Ross (who is also the 2022 IAFP Family Physician of the Year). She was named Program Director for the University of Illinois College of Medicine – Rockford in 2022, succeeding Dr. Ross in the position.  She joined the residency program in the summer of 2020 – also early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Verzal co-created the "Stretch OB Program" (which was featured in the summer issue of Family Physician Magazine) to help provide residency training as well as services in six rural sites across Illinois and one in southern Wisconsin.  Recognizing the need to increase the number Family Medicine physicians who practice in rural communities, she has developed an operative C-section track within the residency. Residents in the operative Stretch OB track are expected and more likely to commit to a rural practice and continue their advanced training.

Another former resident who is now a faculty colleague at the residency, Dr. Sallini Kalachandran, offered this testimonial to her mentor.

“She was innovative in her approach to learning and teaching, especially during the unprecedented and challenging time of the pandemic. She was involved in structuring and re-structuring existing rotation designs to maximize learning, and implementing a didactics and wellness curriculum. Dr. Rhonda Verzal actively promotes community engagement. She is directly responsible for piloting our yearly Holiday Basket donations to the community, in which faculty, residents and staff come together to donate, pack, and deliver food baskets to 40 of our patient families in need.”

In her acceptance speech, Dr. Verzal said, "What brings me the most joy is witnessing the incredible transformation that occurs in our learners. Witnessing their growth as they work to better understand the suffering of others. Celebrating them as they expand their knowledge and build their confidence to compassionately treat patients and ultimately improve the lives of others."

Dr. Joseph Garry, Head of the department of family medicine at the University of Illinois at Rockford adds, “Dr. Verzal worked to develop and initiate a program called the Integrated Family Medicine residency program. This is a competitive program for rising M4 students who know they want to pursue Family Medicine and want to remain at UICOMR Family Medicine residency for their training. Selected students participate in a longitudinal outpatient experience as well as inpatient Family Medicine and Obstetrics during their M4 year, select resident educational experiences, and faculty mentoring.”

This program can include a scholarship to assist with the high cost of medical education. In the program's first year, two students were selected, completed the program and are current PGY1 residents in the Family Medicine residency program. This program was developed to directly address the healthcare needs of Winnebago County and has a successful long-term funding mechanism. “Her reputation continues to grow as she draws medical students from across the country who want to train under her leadership.” Says Garry.

That reputation was described by Reilly Wojciehowski, MD, a 2023 Graduate of University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford and now a PGY-1 at the Rockford Family Medicine Residency Program.  She provides this testimonial on the impact of Dr. Verzal in just a short time at the University of Illinois at Rockford:

I was a second-year medical student at UIC Rockford College of Medicine when I first met Dr. Verzal through our Family Medicine Interest Group as she planned events, journal clubs, workshops, and social gatherings. It was obvious that she had great experience with leading a successful FMIG group as well as gaining the respect of students and residents. My desire to go into family medicine grew stronger from the teaching and leadership of Dr. Verzal during these few interactions, and I knew I needed to spend clinical time with her both in the hospital and clinic. She designed my elective in a way that I would get the most benefit and experience all aspects of family medicine.

While applying and interviewing at other programs, I wanted to be at an institution where the PD teaches, leads, and guides her residents to prepare them for high acuity, problem solving family medicine. Not only does she teach fantastic, detailed clinical medicine, but she cares so deeply for the Rockford community and the medical school community. She wants to create an environment of empathetic providers who are well-versed in all aspects of clinical and social determinants of health. The teaching that I received from Dr. Verzal allowed me to make the decision to stay at her program for my residency training.

"We must model to our learners the humanistic communication and compassion necessary for equitable care," said Verzal. "As we continue to teach medicine in this way, the journey will prove to be more inspiring than we could ever imagine." 

Dr. Verzal graduated from the UIC College of Medicine and completed residency training at Halifax Medical Center in Florida. She continued there as associate program director of the sports medicine residency program before returning to Illinois in 2018.  She received a Golden Apple Teaching award from the medical students at UI-Rockford this year. In 2018 the University of Illinois at Rockford established an annual Rhonda Verzal, MD Award which is peer selected and bestowed to the graduating resident who embodies humility, compassion, dedication and support while providing exceptional care to patients and colleagues.  She lives in Crystal Lake with her husband, Joe Verzal and their three daughters.

Founded in 1947, The Illinois Academy of Family Physicians (IAFP) is a professional medical society dedicated to maintaining high standards of family medicine representing nearly 4,800 family physicians, residents and medical students. IAFP provides continuing medical education (CME) programming, advocacy through all levels of government and opportunities for member engagement and interaction. We are a constituent chapter of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).

Last Updated on Monday, March 04, 2024 10:09 AM