With help from UChicago’s Community Programs Accelerator, The Provident Foundation is poised to support additional South Side youth of color pursuing medical careers

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Inspired by the historic Provident Hospital and Training School, the nonprofit provides scholarships and ongoing mentorship

A 2016 scholarship from The Provident Foundation was a big financial help for Woodlawn resident and aspiring doctor Eric Madu. But the ongoing personal and professional support the nonprofit has been able to offer him has made all the difference. With Provident’s guidance and mentorship, Madu, then a student at Chicago State University, is now three years into medical school at historically Black Meharry Medical College in Nashville and eager to serve underresourced communities like the ones he’s experienced.

“The Provident Foundation has played an important role in my life as a physician, but also as an individual,” Madu says.

The foundation, established in honor of the historic Provident Hospital and Training School for African Americans, has been helping South Side community members of color like Madu since it was founded in 1995. Through its six-year partnership with the University of Chicago’s Community Programs Accelerator, the organization has been able to expand its impact in recent years, promoting education for and providing scholarship opportunities to even more local youth pursuing careers in healthcare. Students like Madu have the potential to help address deeply-rooted disparities in communities of color and the Provident Foundation is poised to soon support even more of them, Associate Dean for Students for UChicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine and Provident Board Member James Woodruff says.

“Knowing that there are large numbers of communities that are underserved and knowing that to properly address the needs of those communities we need a healthcare workforce that more closely reflects the diversity of the United States, it makes sense to invest in young people from these same communities who express an interest in pursuing careers in healthcare and who are willing to work hard to make it happen,” says Woodruff, who has mentored Madu for six years through Provident’s Scholars program and is one of several UChicago doctors who serve on Provident’s Board. “When you work in medicine, you meet a lot of people who you’re proud to have met because they display the very best of human nature and Eric is one of those people.”

Provident was first selected to partner with the Community Programs Accelerator in 2016. The organization had just been revived following the death of cofounder James W. Myles and had little funding and only a working board.

“We had reached the limit of what we could accomplish without additional help or something that would trigger a leap in organizational resources and what the Accelerator did was provide that,” Woodruff said.

Accelerator staff and consultants helped the Provident team develop a strategic plan, set up financial systems, refresh their website and social media presence, and advance a fundraising strategy. When Provident moved to the Accelerator’s Core level of support in 2018, they used the $50,000 grant they received to facilitate the hiring of a part-time administrator to strengthen the organization’s infrastructure. This year, the organization will support 20 scholars, graduate from the Accelerator’s Core cohort, and continue building on the momentum the program has provided.

Community-based organizations can fall into a cycle where, in order to succeed, they need to convey a certain level of experience and credibility, Woodruff says, but they can’t get to that level without proven success. The financial resources and expertise the Accelerator partnership afforded helped Provident break through and reach that new level of stability and growth, he says. The organization is now well positioned to scale and make an impact more broadly in the coming years.

“Provident is leading such important work, not only in supporting existing Scholars, but also in modeling new career pathways and healthcare outcomes for young people and their communities across the South Side,” Accelerator Executive Director Sharon Grant said. “We’re honored to have provided tools that helped them reach this level of sustainability.”

For Board President Myetie Hamilton, granddaughter of cofounder Myles, the Accelerator has helped Provident build the network and organizational infrastructure needed to carry on the historic hospital and her family’s legacy. The original Provident Hospital and Training School opened in the Douglas neighborhood in 1891 to address the lack of quality health care available to African Americans. The hospital closed in the ’80s.

“As an African American male growing up at that time, there were very few people in the healthcare industry that looked like my grandfather,” Hamilton says. “So, here you had an entire hospital of African American healthcare providers from physicians to nurses to receptionists to administrators, so I think that was really the impetus [for my grandfather establishing the foundation]—having experienced that and the importance of having trust in the relationship, in someone who identifies with you.”

Addressing those disparities and strengthening that critical trust in communities of color continues to drive The Provident Foundation’s work. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, African American medical students are more than twice as likely as white students to express the intention to work in high-poverty, minority communities. However, only 6% of medical school graduates are African American despite accounting for 12% of the population. By awarding scholarships and providing support such as MCAT prep courses and shadowing experience to students like Madu and encouraging them to return to their communities to work, the foundation aims to transform the next generation of healthcare providers and the care they provide for the better.

Madu plans to someday operate free clinics in Nigeria, where he spent his childhood, but in the meantime, he’s focused on getting through medical school. Regular check-in emails from his mentor, Woodruff, are a big help.

“Because he’s a physician, I’m able to relate to him in terms of ‘okay, this class is difficult,’ he’s been like ‘I know, keep pushing,’” Madu says. “Dr. Woodruff’s been there before, so he’s shared his experience with me as well as encouraged me along the way.”

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