March 21, 2024

The anatomy of a career: A Doctors’ Day story

Dr. Roberta Luskin-Hawk

Being a doctor is a selfless vocation. It requires years of school, late nights spent in residency, and sacrifices of time spent with family and friends. It is an art as much as a science, and a doctor’s relationship with their profession is deeply personal. To celebrate a doctor is to know them, to hear their journey, worries, successes, and advice. We had the privilege of sitting down with Dr. Roberta Luskin-Hawk, regional chief medical officer and one of the many doctors who have chosen a career with Sound Physicians, to learn her story and honor the work she’s done to truly bring better to the bedside.  

A Chicago native, Roberta fell in love with medicine when she was a freshman in high school. Biology was a favorite among her classes, and she first considered teaching the subject when she grew up. However, a piece of familial folklore tugged her toward a medical path.  

“My grandfather was a pharmacist, but always told me how he wanted to be a doctor,” she said. “He worked hard and saved money but was directed by his father to go to pharmacy school instead.”  

Inspired by her love of biology and interest in helping people, Roberta took the leap into medical school in her hometown of Chicago. Luckily, the windy city had many excellent training programs to choose from.  

Roberta then had the challenging task of selecting a specialty. She considered several options, but it wasn’t until a summer job in a microbiology lab that Roberta felt as though she had found her calling — infectious diseases.  

The Chicago skyline. Photo taken by Dr. Luskin-Hawk.

“In my job at the lab, I became more familiar with these microscopic organisms and the techniques and drugs used to treat them,” she said. “But at the end of the day, the pull I felt towards infectious disease was the fact that it wasn’t restricted to just one part of the body or one organ system. It was very holistic, almost like detective work.

“I was drawn to the intellectual problem-solving it required. Getting in there, figuring out what was wrong, treating it, curing people — I found it fascinating.”  

Specialty locked in, Roberta went into practice with two goals in mind: to see patients and — her high school dream resurfacing — to teach. She found the best of both worlds at a community teaching hospital where many residents were ready to learn.  

“Teaching kept me sharp, especially as the science around HIV and other novel diseases evolved,” she said. “It was fun to mold young minds, and I got the added benefit of caring for patients. After I founded my own practice, I anticipated doing that forever.”  

Careers are seldom what we think they’ll be, and for Roberta, that meant entering a world she never saw herself in: research. While her infectious disease training required a full year of research, scary and uncertain times put her on a new path.  

“My institution was at the very center of the HIV epidemic in Chicago,” she said. “Initially, there were no approved drugs, so we had to access investigational drugs in order for our patients to have even a semblance of a chance.”  

While there were AIDS research organizations across the country, primarily at prominent universities, stigma and lack of outreach to diverse populations limited the nature of clinical trials. The limited inclusion of women, people of color, and those with a history of intravenous drug use in clinical trials led to results that we less generalizable results and denied people access to potentially life-saving investigational drugs.    

“Throughout my career, if there was a problem in front of me, I’d run to solve it,” Roberta said. “We founded an independent non-profit HIV Research Consortium and had a unique approach to broadening the type of participants included in clinical trials. The need was just so profound.”  

Roberta went on to become a powerhouse of healthcare leadership in Chicago. Her passion for health system innovation and public health culminated in multiple hospital CEO and president roles. Today, Sound Physicians is the next step in her leadership career.  

“As I went along, I found myself gravitating towards the bigger challenges. My history with patient care, teaching, quality improvement, and program development led me to take bigger roles in hospitals and healthcare systems,” she said. “Having run hospitals for 14 years now, I’ve seen the challenges healthcare faces from a variety of perspectives.” 

“The core of my work at Sound is delivering healthcare in the inpatient setting. I can oversee programs and deliver integrated solutions to our hospital partners,” she said. “It’s nice to come a little closer to the work and really see the impact.”  

Today, Roberta’s fulfillment at Sound is complimented by a rich life outside of work. Her daughter, dog, family, and friends enrich her day to day.  An avid traveler and artist at heart, she enjoys photography and diligently documents the beauty of the places she visits. When not on the road, she also loves to enjoy all of Chicago’s offerings, from the outdoors to the ballet.   

“I have a ‘work hard, play hard’ philosophy,” she said. “I try to embrace all that life has to offer, enjoy what’s around me, and take pictures of what I enjoy. I find great satisfaction in a life built upon gratitude, giving, optimism, and relationships with people.” 

A collection of Dr. Luskin-Hawk’s travel photography

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