8 Questions with… Dr. Ruby Mendenhall

“8 Questions with…” is a Gold Foundation series spotlighting members of the Gold community – doctors, nurses, healthcare professionals of all kinds, students, corporate and hospital leaders, patients, family members, Trustees, staff members, and supporters.

We are delighted to introduce you to Dr. Ruby Mendenhall, a visionary leader and interdisciplinary researcher. Dr. Mendenhall is the Kathryn Lee Baynes Dallenbach Professor in Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Co-Director of STEM Illinois. She is also the Associate Dean for Diversity and Democratization of Health Innovation at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine.

Dr. Mendenhall was the recipient of the 2021 Pearl Birnbaum Hurwitz Humanism in Healthcare Award. She has galvanized students, faculty, community groups, and citizen scientists to advance the shared quest for a more equitable, healthy, and just world for all. 

Dr. Mendenhall will be one of the featured speakers at the 2024 Gold Humanism Summit: The Person in Front of You. Learn more and register.

The Gold Foundation defines humanism in healthcare as three elements: compassion, collaboration, and scientific excellence. Why does humanism in healthcare matter to you?  

I recently interviewed Dr. Selwyn Rogers for a documentary on mothers who lost adult children to gun violence titled What’s Left Behind? Dr. Rogers is the Founding Director of the Trauma Center at the University of Chicago. I was blown away by the level of compassion and collaboration that he showed when talking about how he tells family members that their child has passed away. The care and compassion that he puts into those moments are a perfect example of the importance of training physicians and other healthcare professionals in the art and science of compassion. I plan to collaborate with Dr. Rogers to create educational videos on humanism (i.e., compassion, collaboration and scientific excellence) in healthcare.

Former Gold President and CEO Dr. Richard I. Levin presenting Dr. Mendenhall with the 2021 Pearl Birnbaum Hurwitz Humanism in Healthcare Award.

What do you think is the most urgent threat to humanism in healthcare? 

I think that one of the urgent threats to humanism, specifically scientific excellence, is the limited collaboration with the general public as citizen/community scientists in understanding trauma and cultural practices that help to prevent diseases.

What is one thing you do every day to care for your well-being? 

I always try to sleep for at least seven hours a night.

I also listen to music based on my mood. I love to dance, so I like upbeat music. When I feel sad, I often listen to gospel and inspirational music.

What is one of your favorite feel-good songs for a tough day? 

Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Three Little Birds.

What is your happy place and why? 

Lake Michigan in Chicago is definitely my happy place. It is beautiful and expansive, which makes me feel limitlessness. Some days, I need nature’s help to feel hopeful.

What is one of your favorite quotes? 

I have two favorite quotes.

One is from Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise.”

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

At the end of the poem, she writes:

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

And what’s your second favorite quote?

My second favorite quote is from Gwendolyn Brooks poem, “The Children of the Poor”.

My favorite lines are in bold.

What shall I give my children? who are poor,

Who are adjudged the leastwise of the land,

Who are my sweetest lepers, who demand

No velvet and no velvety velour;

But who have begged me for a brisk contour,

Crying that they are quasi, contraband

Because unfinished, graven by a hand

Less than angelic, admirable or sure.

My hand is stuffed with mode, design, device.

But I lack access to my proper stone.

And plenitude of plan shall not suffice

Nor grief nor love shall be enough alone

To ratify my little halves who bear

Across an autumn freezing everywhere.

Photo credit: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

If you were stranded on a desert island for a week, what are three items you would want with you? 

The first item is a solar-powered cell phone because I could still be in contact with family and friends while alone on the island for a week. I would also have access to my audio books and music. I would have light at night and many other things.

The second item is a tiny home that can provide shelter from the elements and a safe space to sleep. I am hoping to build a small home that will have the latest technology to improve health and wellness.

The third item is a crate with food, water, and art supplies. I am painting these days, and a week on a deserted island sounds like a wonderful time to paint nature scenes.

Thank you, Dr. Mendenhall! Hear Dr. Mendenhall speak at the 2024 Gold Humanism Summit in Atlanta. Learn more and register.

If you have suggestions for someone we should spotlight, please email Irene Zampetoulas at izampetoulas@gold-foundation.orgRead more interviews in the “8 Questions with ….” series.

Gold Foundation Staff