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Profile: Andrew Dykens is a physician on a mission

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Andrew Dykens

Andrew Dykens, director of UIC’s global health program, founded Peace Care three years ago. Following the Peace Corps model, the initiative connects universities, Peace Corps volunteers and health care workers to improve health care in developing countries.

Photo: Kathryn Marchetti

Peace Care, founded by physician Andrew Dykens, and the Peace Corps, founded by President John F. Kennedy, have a lot more in common than just their similar names.

Peace Care not only follows the Peace Corps model, but works hand-in-hand with the older organization to advance global health.

“There’s an enormous amount of volunteerism in this country in the realm of medical and health care education, and we want to harness that and link it to an already existing organization, the Peace Corps,” said Dykens, director of UIC’s global health program in the department of family medicine.

A former volunteer for the Peace Corps, Dykens noted that it has 7,600 volunteers working in more than 75 countries “with an enormous amount of resources and more importantly, respect and trust.”

Peace Care links universities, Peace Corps volunteers and health care workers in developing countries.

“One of the largest issues in global health is the health care workforce,” said Dykens.


Helping the helpers

Africa, for example, has 10 percent of the world’s population and 24 percent of the disease burden, but only 3 percent of the health care workforce, he said.

One problem is that many health care workers, once trained, leave their home countries in pursuit of better pay.

“Our model makes that less likely,” Dykens said. “We think they’ll stay in place.”

As it educates health care workers, Peace Care will point out the great need for them to practice in their underserved home countries.

“It will create a desire to give back to the common good,” Dykens said.

He served in the Peace Corps in Mauritania, in west Africa, in 1997-1999, working primarily in HIV education, community health and water sanitation.

“I came to understand how fortunate and, yes, how rich we are in the Western world in comparison to low-income countries,” Dykens said.

“Two-thirds of the world lives on less than two dollars a day. To live in an area where you see this and live it day to day really refocuses your future goals.”


Joining 'all of my worlds'

Dykens had visions of becoming a physician as an undergrad.

“I enjoyed the science and I wanted to work with people,” he said. “But I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to necessarily use it primarily for global health.

“Then my experience in the Peace Corps solidified my opportunity to work with community health workers and physicians in the village where I was stationed.

“It was very formative.”

Toward the end of seeking his public health degree, he said, “I began to realize I wanted to bring together all of my worlds.”

He founded Peace Care three years ago. Since then, the nonprofit organization has signed agreements with Senegal and Jordan.

“We’ve reached out to seven or eight other Peace Corps posts, and once we get the model up and running, we’ll be able to collaborate with a multitude of sites,” Dykens said.

For a pilot project, he and two resident physicians will spend January and February in Senegal.

“It will be a community-based participatory model, guided by the community itself,” he said.

“In initial conversations no issue has been selected per se, but there are several areas where we’ve identified need — malaria control, cervical cancer screening and emergency protocol at clinics there.”



Dykens spent his boyhood in Carl Junction, Mo. — “I’m a small-town boy,” he said — and got his undergraduate degree at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo.

He earned his medical degree from the University of Missouri, then residency training at UIC, where he received his master’s in public health in 2008.

He is a family practitioner at the Mile Square Health Center and directs the global community health track of the family medicine residency program.

His wife, Lauren, is a physician assistant in the emergency room at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights.

They have a 13-month-old daughter, Sevi Dabel. “Sevi” is for Seville, Spain — “We’ve vacationed there and it’s a beautiful city,” Dykens said — and “Dabel” is the name of a little girl in the family he lived with in Selibaby, Mauritania.

Dykens enjoys playing the guitar and riding his bicycle. “I try to ride to work” from home in Lake View, he said.

He has ambitious plans for Peace Care.

“We’re just really starting to get our feet on the ground, but we’ve already got nearly 100 people following our regular monthly update,” he said.

“We hope in five or 10 years to be able to provide technical expertise to any Peace Corps volunteer around the world.”


More profiles:

Jessica Horn is helping with her head, heart and hands

Tamarah Duperval's first-hand view of the health care debate

Ron Hershow tracks down epidemics

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