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‘I hope I lead by example’

UIC Woman of the Year

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Sara Rusch

Sara Rusch started her career as a resident at the UIC College of Medicine’s Peoria campus. Three decades later, she’s the university’s first female regional dean.

Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

Since she began her career at UIC as a resident physician in internal medicine, Sara Rusch has risen through the ranks over the past 30 years to become the university’s first female regional dean.

Her reasons for staying at the UIC College of Medicine’s Peoria campus so long are both personal — her husband is a native Peorian — and professional.

“Peoria’s a tremendous medical community and it has allowed me an opportunity to practice medicine, teach and create something: a stronger academic environment,” said Rusch, named this year’s UIC Woman of the Year by the Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Women. She will be honored at a reception March 1 in Peoria.

“I’ve had the opportunity to mentor individuals and watch them grow and blossom. It’s been an immensely satisfying place to spend a career.”

Since she joined the Peoria campus in 1978, she’s held several clinical administrative roles, including residency program director, chair of internal medicine and regional dean. A specialist in internal medicine and geriatrics, Rusch also treated patients at OSF St. Francis Medical Center until she was named dean in 2008.

And she balanced her rising career while raising seven children.

“I hope that I lead by example because I enjoy my ability to provide patient care, I have attained a position of leadership and yet the wall to my office is hung with pictures of my family,” she said. “It’s important that each of us find our own path to what we think of as success.”

Under her leadership, the college has built a 24,000-square-foot cancer research center and established a new psychiatry residency.

“I believe strongly in delivering care to the whole person — physical, mental and spiritual health,” Rusch said.

Another project, the Jump Trading Simulation and Education Center funded by a $25 million gift from the financial trading firm, will simulate clinical situations for hands-on student training.

“It’s important that each of us find our own path to what we think of as success.”

“Leadership is really an opportunity to accomplish something,” she said. “Being regional dean allows me to have a great impact on how our college functions, gives me a chance to try to really make contributions to improve patient care.”

Rusch said she’s seen the number of women in leadership positions grow over the years, “but I think there are still opportunities for more.”

From 1970 to 1973, the Peoria campus had just one female medical student, she said. Today, enrollment is balanced at 50 percent male and female students, with about 20 percent underrepresented minorities.

She created an informal mentorship program for women at the Peoria campus called “Ladies Night Out” that’s continued for nearly 20 years. Faculty members, medical students and attending physicians gather at Rusch’s or another faculty member’s home to discuss issues impacting their careers, such as balancing work and family life.

“We don’t market one particular path to success — there are many,” she said.

Rusch struck her own balance by dedicating all of her time outside work to her family.

“We always had dinner together, always took family vacations and always told our children and behaved as if they were the most important things in our lives,” she said.

Her husband, Thomas Cusack, retired from OSF St. Francis a year ago and is clinical professor of radiology at the Peoria campus. Three of their children — including twin daughters — are now in medical school.

“If they watched what my husband and I did — we both worked full time and chose medicine as a career — it must have looked doable,” she said.

She’s a proud grandmother to six, with a seventh on the way.

She didn’t have much time for hobbies before, but now that her children have left home, she enjoys reading and handiwork.

She knits sweaters, quilts and bonnets to give to her newborn grandchildren. With the seventh grandchild due next month, “I’m working very frantically on it now,” she said.


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