Expanding health care access

Doriane Miller, MD’83
Doriane Miller, MD’83

While at the Pritzker School of Medicine, Doriane Miller, MD’83, was among the first group of medical students to volunteer at St. Basil’s Free People’s Clinic in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. The experience proved to be an important part of her education that influenced her future career path.

“I started to get a different window into what kinds of things tend to determine a person’s health,” she said. “How important having health insurance coverages is, and the fact that poverty and other issues would come into play and have a lot to do with health outcomes and wellbeing. So my first glimpse of that was because I had the opportunity to do this, and the Pritzker School of Medicine provided that opportunity and connection,” she said.

After graduating from Pritzker, Dr. Miller went to the University of California—San Francisco, where she completed a residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in general medicine and clinical epidemiology. During her fellowship, Dr. Miller developed a support and advocacy group for grandparents who were raising their grandchildren. The group, called Grandparents Who Care, became a model for programs that are now being implemented in approximately half of all counties in California.

From there, she began to build a career focused on advancing community health.

“Most of my career after residency has been in the area of caring for under-resourced communities in a community setting and also developing research and demonstration projects that address issues that people would face on a day-to-day basis, and not necessarily in a traditional medical sense,” she said.

In 2009, Dr. Miller was drawn back to the University of Chicago Medicine by the opportunity to become the inaugural director of the Center for Community Health and Vitality. The Center serves to connect UChicago Medicine with a network of community-based organizations in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The Center’s signature program is known as Community Grand Rounds. Unlike the traditional grand rounds, which are meetings attended by physicians and medical trainees, Community Grand Rounds are events that engage community members in conversations about issues that impact health. Dr. Miller and her colleagues work in partnership with community groups to gather input about topics that interest people in the UChicago Medicine service area. Together, they organize public discussions featuring UChicago Medicine physicians, representatives of local nonprofit organizations, community health workers, and sometimes even local artists and musicians.

“It’s been about that level of meeting people in the community where they are,” said Dr. Miller. “And also asking them what you do want, how do you want it delivered, what’s important to you? And how can we make this happen using the University of Chicago’s resources to provide education and information?”

Dr. Miller says that this approach to delivering community health programs helps to promote trust and makes UChicago Medicine feel more approachable for those living in the area.

In addition to her role as director of the Center for Community Health and Vitality, Dr. Miller continues to treat patients as a primary care physician, and she still makes time to volunteer with University of Chicago alumni organizations.

She is the vice president of the Alumni Council of the University of Chicago Medical and Biological Sciences Alumni Association (UChicago MBSAA), and she serves on the executive committee of the University of Chicago Alumni Board. Dr. Miller said that a desire to give back motivated her to join these groups.

“I think that sometimes if you get to a certain point, you realize the impact that your education has had on your future and wellbeing, but also the wellbeing of your loved ones. And you start to think about ways in which you can give back and also give to the next generation,” she said.

Dr. Miller also saw a value in contributing her point of view within the alumni leadership groups.

“As an African American woman, I’m able to provide somewhat of a unique lens on my experiences here,” she said. “I think that helps to contribute to diversity of thought and experience as a whole, and it’s a nice way to give back.”

One of the ways Dr. Miller has advanced the work of the UChicago MBSAA was to help reshape its Alumni Awards program. As chair of the Alumni Awards Committee, she focused on expanding the program to reflect the many areas where UChicago alumni are making an impact. This resulted in more thoughtful discussion on how to diversify the pool of nominees and led to the creation of two award categories that would give the UChicago MBSAA community more ways to honor their alumni. The Distinguished Alumni Award, formerly the Distinguished Service Award, honors leadership and achievement in fields related to medicine and the biological sciences, while the Alumni Service Award honors service to the University community.

Dr. Miller says she would encourage fellow UChicago graduates to get involved in alumni associations and volunteer boards.

“Come join us! We are a fun group. We are a diverse group. We have a fairly wide spectrum in terms of ages of people who participate on the board,” she said. Dr. Miller also noted that alumni groups carry on the tradition of rigorous inquiry that characterizes a UChicago education.

“It’s rigor with purpose,” she said. “To figure out the best ways that we can serve the institution and promote its legacy.”

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