Homeless Chicago Mother On Path To Nursing Degree

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A former homeless mother is now learning to become a nurse thanks to a unique program at Rush University Medical Center. Nesita Kwan reports. (Published Friday, Nov 8, 2013)

    Lorraine Johnson, 39, is a mother of four who grew up in one of the roughest neighborhoods on Chicago's West Side and, at one point, found herself homeless.

    Today, Johnson aims to be a master's degree candidate at Rush University Medical Center, a place she could ultimately work thanks to a unique program at the center.

    "I want to be a nurse," she said, "because I think the nurse's job is to provide that comfort and reassurance you need."

    A $5 million donation from BMO Harris to Rush University Medical Center aims to recruit people like Johnson into its health care program.

    "We get people trained for the jobs of tomorrow in the places where the jobs are going to be," Rush CEO Dr. Larry Goodman said.

    And those jobs are changing, Goodman said.

    "When we see the same asthmatic five times a year, that's not good care. It's good care that moment, it's not the best care for that patient."

    When Johnson graduates, Goodman said she will be asked to care for people by preventing them from having to get care at all.

    "I come from a place where if nothing is hurting you, you're OK," Johnson said. "[I want] to teach them, teach them how to get an annual checkup, a monthly checkup."

    Goodman said the $5 million grant also supports an electronic network that links emergency rooms to clinics, primary care physicians and community health workers who may actually make home visits.

    "What can be done with them working in their homes to make them more compliant, what strategies are useful," Goodman said, "may mean getting to know a patient better."

    That's something Johnson feels well suited to do.

    "People that come from where I come from, I'll be able to help them," she said.