Sean Gaffney and Shilpa Vasishta, MS4s, named 2016 AMA Physicians of Tomorrow

A decade ago, the American Medical Association (AMA) created the Physicians of Tomorrow Awards to provide tuition assistance to medical students entering their final year of school. This prestigious award honors the academic, personal, and professional accomplishments of a select group of students nationwide, and we are proud to announce that Sean Gaffney and Shilpa Vasishta, MS4s, are two of this year’s recipients of the Physicians of Tomorrow Chicago-Area scholarship.

Sean GaffneySean graduated magna cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in 2009. He dedicated much of his undergraduate career to volunteerism and community service, working both to aid underprivileged residents in his area and to develop leadership skills for his fellow students. These experiences inspired him to pursue a two-year AmeriCorps Professional Teaching Corps Fellowship through the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), where he honed his interest in teaching and access to education. With ACE, Sean was stationed in Brownsville, Texas at an under-resourced school where he taught Economics and Government.

Following his time as a teacher, Sean worked briefly at the US House of Representatives and the US Department of Justice, where his interest in medicine grew as he worked on projects regarding health insurance and healthcare markets. He entered a post-baccalaureate premedical program at Goucher College in 2012, finding that a career in medicine would merge his interests both in education and in advocacy and compassion for those underserved by the healthcare industry. After matriculating at Pritzker, Sean found his stride: he was chosen as a Bucksbaum Institute for Clinical Excellence Scholar; he received the Margaret Bradley Scholarship; and he was named Medical Student Volunteer of the Year Award by CommunityHealth Clinic.

Sean has engaged in research with Vineet Arora, MD, AM'03 and Jeanne Farnan, MD'02, MHPE on “Transitions of Care and Transitioning to Training,” a research project dedicated to the development of a curriculum in handoffs for graduate medical students here at the University of Chicago Medicine. His work received an Honorable Mention at the 2014 Pritzker Summer Research Forum, and he presented his work as a plenary poster session at the 2014 Medical Education Day. Currently, he serves on the Clinical Curriculum Review Committee, evaluating clerkships and electives.

Sean has chosen to live at Su Casa Catholic Worker, a domestic violence shelter in the Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago. He has enmeshed himself in this community of victims of domestic violence, and leads by cooking meals, looking after children, and coordinating outside volunteer groups. He has worked to bring his medical school peers to the shelter to learn about domestic violence and how to incorporate screening into their practice. Sean will surely become a “physician of tomorrow” who is in tune with the needs of his community and will make an impact far beyond the walls of his office.

Shilpa VasishtaShilpa graduated magna cum laude from Barnard College in 2010, and earned departmental honors for her senior thesis in Neuroscience & Behavior. After graduating from Barnard, Shilpa continued in service work, entering the Peace Corps in 2010 and volunteering for three years in KwaMhlanga, South Africa, where she taught high school students in math, science, and English at a rural school. While there, she also led a life skills program and camp for young women at the school. This experience has inspired Shilpa to weave community work into her medical training throughout her time at Pritzker.

Upon entering our medical school, Shilpa began working with Anna Volerman, MD in the Department of Pediatrics on a research project entitled, “Systematic Literature Review of School-Based Asthma Education Programs”. Her presentations on this project have won three awards: Honorable Mention for submission in translational research at the University of Chicago Pediatrics Research Day; Best Research Abstract at the American Academy of Pediatrics Conference; and First Place Trainee Resident Original Science Research Award at the Academic Pediatric Association Region V Meeting.

Shilpa has established herself as a mentor for her peers at Pritzker. She is a four-time Peer Educator (PE): in 2014, she was a PE for the Chicago Academic Medicine Program, or CAMP, a pipeline program for undergraduate students from ethnicities or backgrounds that are underrepresented in medicine, and she both taught them premedical subjects and counseled them to help prepare for medical school. That same year, Shilpa was also a PE for The Human Body, our anatomy course, and her performance as a teacher and mentor earned her the 2015 Students Teaching Students Award from the Class of 2018. This year, Shilpa has been a PE for our Health Care Disparities course, which educates our students on disparities and advocacy in community care, and for Clinical Pathophysiology and Therapeutics, a required MS2 course.

Shilpa has continued her community and institutional service while at our school, and has been volunteering at the University of Chicago Charter School Health and Wellness Committee since 2014. In this capacity, she has—in conjunction with her research with Dr. Volerman—advised in the development of an asthma curriculum for the students at the school and will this year conduct an evaluation of the curriculum with support from the 2016-17 Calvin Fentress Research Fellowship. In addition, Shilpa has been active in the Preclinical and Clinical Curriculum Review Committees, reviewing course evaluations and working with faculty to advise on curriculum development and relay student input. She continues to dance and choreograph as a member of the Pritzker Dance Group.

We congratulate Sean and Shilpa on their outstanding achievements as 2016 AMA Physicians of Tomorrow.