• Making the Most of Opportunities to Teach and Lead

    September 21, 2020, 2:11 pm David Mitchell -- Santina Wheat, M.D., M.P.H., A.A.H.I.V.S., never had an elaborate, five-year plan to get to this point in her career. In fact, she didn't initially plan on a career in academia, but last summer Wheat became the program director at the family medicine residency that trained her.

    headshot of Santina Wheat, M.D., M.P.H., A.A.H.I.V.S.

    Her approach is pretty straightforward.

    "I'm open to opportunities as they come along," she said, "and I go where I'm needed most. This is the best way I can ensure that my patients have physicians like me -- by training them."

    Wheat has been on faculty at the Northwestern McGaw Family Medicine Residency at Erie Humboldt Park since graduating from the program in 2013. The teaching health center serves a largely Spanish-speaking patient population at a federally qualified health center in Chicago. Her patient panel consists primarily of patients living with HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. She also directs an outpatient procedure clinic with residents and provides maternity care and inpatient newborn care.

    "I always knew I wanted to do primary care," said Wheat, who also is an associate professor at the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. "During the application process for medical school, I realized family medicine was the perfect place for me because I wanted to care for adults and children."

    Wheat also found a niche in leadership and advocacy. Last year, she completed a six-year stint on the Illinois AFP's Board of Directors. She now serves as one of the chapter's alternate delegates to the AAFP Congress of Delegates, holds roles on a number of chapter committees and also serves on the board of the chapter's foundation.

    Wheat serves the AAFP as a member of its Commission on Continuing Professional Development and its Subcommittee on Health Equity and is a member of the Association of Family Medicine Residency Directors' Diversity and Health Equity Task Force.

    Although balancing her clinical, teaching and administrative roles with leadership and a family that includes two young children is challenging, Wheat said leading and mentoring go together.

    "My role as a family physician includes my role as an advocate," she said. "That's part of what I do every day. I think it's really important to model that behavior and let (residents) know there are opportunities. If I know I can't do something, I try to recommend someone else so they can have an opportunity."

    Of course, Wheat often says yes to opportunity, including serving as an instructor for the AAFP's Advanced Life Support in Obstetrics course and regularly presenting at other AAFP and Society of Teachers of Family Medicine events.

    "There is always time for things you are passionate about," she said. "I'm fortunate my family believes that, too. My husband and I are good about providing space for each other to do that."