Public Health Hero: Allison Arwady, MD, MPH

Public Health Hero: Allison Arwady, MD, MPH

Chicago Department of Public Health

Armed with a straightforward attitude and reams of data, Allison Arwady, MD, MPH, answers the public’s coronavirus questions every Tuesday and Thursday during a livestreamed Q&A session.

The immediacy of the real-time interactions enables Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), to communicate directly with Chicagoans and relay vital Covid-19 information.

Allison Arwady quote “I love Chicago,” she says. “The public health problems in the city are really big, but we have a lot of dedicated people who are committed to working on them.”

Arwady, an internal medicine physician and pediatrician, has spent years battling infectious diseases and working for community health.

During medical school, Arwady spent a summer providing AIDS education in rural South Africa, in an impoverished community where the disease was prevalent and healthcare was lacking. “It was the first time I saw what medical inequities looked like,” Arwady says.

The experience awakened her interest in public health and disease prevention. Later, she worked in the epidemic intelligence service at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, traveling to Saudi Arabia to investigate Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and to Liberia to study Ebola.

 “I’ve never been scared to go outside my comfort zone,” Arwady says. 

When she’s not leading Chicago’s pandemic response, Arwady volunteers at a free medical clinic where she treats patients who commonly suffer from the same conditions that put them at higher risk of Covid-19 complications.

And on weekends, Arwady gives tours with the Chicago Architecture Center. She adds details such as how the reversal of the Chicago River reduced cholera and typhoid — proof that even when she’s taking a break from her commissioner responsibilities, public health stays front and center.

Originally published in the Fall 2020/Winter 2021 print issue. Photo by Jim Vondruska