issue Winter 2022

Leadership Message

By Wendy Rheault, PT, PhD, FASAHP, FNAP, DipACLM
Dr. Wendy Rheault delivers a lecture to physical therapy students in April 2019.

Rosalind Franklin University is entering a new year with great optimism and resolve, grounded in science and committed to helping lead the fight for a healthier future for all.

As we emerge from our second full pandemic year, I am filled with gratitude by the knowledge that the RFU community and our alumni have served on the front lines throughout the battle against COVID-19. Their commitment reminds us that we are all stewards of our collective health and well-being.

Nursing, along with lifestyle medicine, is central to building the new value-based models that will transform the way we deliver health care.

We’ve learned important lessons from the pandemic, which exposed long-standing health and economic disparities and underlying inequities in healthcare systems and society at large. Our COVID-19 response revealed a lack of integration between conventional health care and an underfunded public health system. It showed us the dangers in politicizing public health efforts and the viral spread of misinformation. It also exposed the lack of investment in prevention of the chronic diseases that put so many people at greater risk of illness and death from COVID-19.

These lessons and many more inform our efforts as we build new academic programs, initiatives and curricula — including a new College of Nursing, lifestyle medicine and epidemiology — with the goal of working with our communities toward health equity. Our commitment to lifestyle medicine, a discipline that puts health and wellness at the forefront of primary care, is reflected in this issue of Helix, which features alumni, faculty, staff and students who are integrating wellness concepts into their own lives and practices and across communities.

Close attention to and education around healthy behaviors is crucial, when we consider that 85% of the health of any given population is determined not by medical care, but by social factors — including where we live, our income and education levels, and our ability to manage stress, eat well and get the exercise our bodies need to be healthy.

Nursing, along with lifestyle medicine, is central to building the new value-based models that will transform the way we deliver health care. A highly trained and diverse nursing workforce can help communities address inequities, advocate for and manage the delivery of care to specific populations, and improve prevention and promote wellness through education and access.

We’re determined to expand recruitment and improve retention of underrepresented students, faculty and staff throughout all levels of the university, and to continue to make concerted efforts toward producing the diverse health and biomedical workforce so crucial for improved care and outcomes in communities of Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC).

The pandemic also revealed the lifesaving impact of science. Biomedical research and technology produced highly effective and safe vaccines in record time and allowed us to continue to deliver health professions education and engage in disease-focused research despite disruptions to our academic and community life. The $2 million matching grant awarded to RFU last fall by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity underscores the state’s confidence in our leadership and our efforts to create an environment where academia and industry can work together to solve complex health challenges.

Our commitment to improving wellness is strengthened by this and many other strategic partnerships, which encourage investment and drive innovations that can improve health across our communities.

We continue to count on the generous support of so many clinical, academic and community partners who are helping us lead the fight — through a pandemic and beyond — for a healthier, more equitable future.

Wendy Rheault, PT, PhD, FASAHP, FNAP, DipACLM
President and CEO