‘Silver Cross Family’ Adds a Doctor with Help from Healthy Community Commission
Irisha Clark said she was in seventh grade at Washington Jr. High in Joliet when she announced to her family that she wanted to become a doctor.
But her Mom, Rosie Holloman, and grandmother, Geraldine Littlepage, remember the thought sprang up a few years earlier as a kindergartener.
“She was at her great-grandfather’s bedside,” said Littlepage, a nurse who had worked at Silver Cross Hospital for 43 years before retiring in 2014. “She was so sad. She said she wanted to be able to help people.”
Littlepage and Holloman, who also worked at Silver Cross Hospital as a nurse for 13 years, said when Clark brought it up again in seventh grade, they still wondered if she would be able to push all the way through medical school.
But they saw Clark push through many obstacles and finally, via Zoom, to see her graduate in May with a Doctorate of Medicine from the University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford. And she’ll soon begin a three-year residency in Emergency Medicine at Ascension Providence Hospital/Michigan State University College of Human Medicine in Southfield, Michigan.
Emergency medicine suits her personality, Clark said. “Being in the emergency department feels like home,” she said. “With emergency medicine, every day is different, every patient is different and I enjoy working with my hands.”
“And I just love when they look at me so gratefully for helping them. It’s such a wonderful feeling to help people.
“I also have loved being at Silver Cross. When I was 15 and a student at Joliet Central High School, I volunteered as what you would call a candy striper. Then, when I was 16, I got hired in Nutritional Services as a Dietary Aide.”
Holloman said her daughter would work there from high school through her undergraduate program at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Community Health with high honors.
Clark achieved high honors again as she earned her Master of Public Health degree from the U of I. From there, she got even more of a boost from Silver Cross, as her mother and grandmother did.
While working at Silver Cross, Holloman and Littlepage were able to utilize the employee tuition reimbursement program that helped pay for their advanced level nursing degrees. Recently Clark was able to receive yearly scholarships through the Silver Cross Healthy Community Commission to help her pay for medical school.
Founded in 2008, the Silver Cross Healthy Community Commission is a community-based organization committed to creating a stronger, healthier future by providing support for education, workforce development training, and enrichment activities for youth, to improve the quality of life for the communities they serve.
In addition to helping fund Aunt Martha’s community health care center, and veteran’s housing and medical care on the former Silver Cross campus in Joliet, the Silver Cross Healthy Community Commission also has awarded scholarships and helped organizations in low-income areas.
Clark said she had to apply each year for the scholarship, but added it was key in keeping down those school loans. That way, she could concentrate on her work, in and out of school.
During her graduate studies, Clark served in various capacities, most notable being the President of the Student National Medical Association. This student-run organization embraces diversity and underrepresented individuals in medicine with a goal to spread awareness and address the health needs of underserved communities. Clark said, “With only 2% of physicians in the United States being African American women, I hope I can encourage the next generation of doctors and help minority communities live healthier lives.”
Her greatest achievement in medical school was being inducted into the U of I’s Arnold P. Gold Foundation’s Gold Humanism Honor Society. Students are nominated that have shown to display the following attributes of Integrity, Excellence, Compassion, Altruism, Respect, Empathy, and Service.
“We are so proud,” said Holloman. “When she told us she wanted to be a doctor, we said, ‘Well, how about being a nurse?’ She said, ‘No, I want to be a doctor.’ She just had it in her mind. She is just such a nice person and so focused.”
Littlepage said she hoped early on the stress of medical school wouldn’t be too much for her granddaughter.
“And I thought, well, kids change their minds all the time. And it was a monumental task. But she was up for it. I’m very proud of her.”
Holloman and Littlepage had to watch the doctoral graduation via Zoom due to COVID restrictions. But they said that didn’t stop them from crying when Clark’s name was called.
“I cried when I saw her achieve her dreams,” Holloman said. “And she said she’d like to come back to work at Silver Cross. That makes me proud, too. We’re a Silver Cross family.”