Trained in both Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at the University of Illinois, she has celebrated over 22 years as a physician with most of her career teaching in top academic hospitals in the Midwest. In her current professional role, she is Deputy Chief of Medicine for the Illinois Department of Health where she and her team are responsible for the medical care of +40K offenders in custody in the Illinois State Prisons.
She is known by most as simply “Sweetie,” A childhood name that followed her first into her semi-professional career as a singer of soulful gospel music and later into professional circles from the hospital floors to the boardroom. Most of her mentees affectionately know her as “Dr. Sweetie,” a name they created.
She is known best for her warm and exuberant personality and bedside manner as a physician and clinical educator devoted to the care of vulnerable populations. But an act of violence would inspire a powerful work of advocacy that would change her trajectory and become her life’s legacy. Dr. Conway decided to formalize her life long legacy of mentoring young people in the art of compassionate medicine and service when one of her favorite 14 year old cousins, full of promise and talent, was paralyzed following a gunshot wound to the spine intended for someone else. This pivotal moment followed the murder of her 15-year-old cousin on mother’s day just 6 months earlier. “Violence exists where there is hopelessness. It will knock on every door until it is answered. We can’t rest until we change this narrative,” Dr. Conway explains.
“But mentors changed my life and gave me a second chance when it was nearly too late. You must SEE IT TO BE IT,” Dr. Conway exclaims. “Our devoted physicians are creating legacy by proxy right within our communities” and she is expecting these future physicians to do the same. “If not us then who? If not now then when?”
She realized that many of the younger, misguided youth from these communities not only lacked mentors to guide and position them for success but they also didn’t understand how we are all as humans connected one to the other; that we are not just responsible for our brother – but we are a reflection of them and we are in fact “our brother’s keeper.” Thus she created I AM ABEL FOUNDATION, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that she describes as a “mentoring scholarly community” whose motto is “Excellence Period. Serve Always.” The foundation is focused on community and global service with pipelines to medicine and STEM with the objective of bridging socioeconomic gaps so that all of Chicago’s children would have a shot at the not so impossible dream. Those children would in turn ignite the dreams of those who would follow them breaking generational curses and changing our communities from the inside out. “We all are teachers and each one must reach one,” Dr. Conway explains.
I AM ABEL FOUNDATION started with the 100 Hearts Program that would empower bright, young community leaders to become activists in the realm of “self help care and violence prevention,” and many of the students became certified in CPR/FirstAid/Stop The Bleed and would teach their fellow students, certifying over 1000 Chicago area students.
The organization, however, would become a comprehensive organization whose reach was far beyond what Dr. Conway initially imagined and would become focused on developing socially conscious medical scholars that would use the platform of medicine to create equity, close gaps and create safer, healthier communities.
The flagship program of I AM ABEL FOUNDATION is it’s Urban Bridges Medical Mentoring Physician Pipeline Program designed to offer 1:1 physician mentoring, academic advising and scholarly support in the areas of STEM. Students benefit from intense clinical and pre-med opportunities for underrepresented Chicago area students. Students also have a number of service opportunities both locally and abroad along with unique global healthcare opportunities in countries like Haiti, Cuba, Costa Rica and more.