Before Margaret Russell began her medical career as a family physician and certified HIV specialist she worked in technical theatre. While working as a stage manager, Margaret made many friends within the LGBTQ+ community. As her friendships developed, Margaret shared her intention to one day become a physician. In response, her friends told her about their past experiences with doctors, who had mistreated and stigmatized them because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Her friends urged Margaret to become a different type of doctor, one who was an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community.
With her friends’ encouragement in mind, Margaret began her residency at Erie Family Health Centers in 2016. When the opportunity arose to follow an HIV training track, Margaret recognized it was a chance to make an even greater difference. Although not everyone who is living with HIV identifies as LGBTQ+, Margaret knew that people living with HIV can also experience stigma from medical professionals. By specializing in HIV care, Margaret felt she could improve the way all patients are treated by their doctors. Now, Margaret works with Erie’s Lending Hands for Life program, where she maintains strong, positive relationships with her patients who are living with HIV.
“The reason I was drawn to primary care in the first place is because I really love having continuity with people,” Margaret said. “Some of my HIV patients are the patients that I’ve gotten to be there for long-term and that’s something I really love about it.”
Margaret’s advocacy for people living with HIV does not stop when she leaves her office. Since 2017, Margaret has participated in AIDS Run & Walk Chicago, where she joins her colleagues at Erie in racing and fundraising through the annual event.
Erie Family Health Centers is one of the more than 20 CommunityDirect partners who serve people living with HIV across the Chicagoland area. Each partner raises funds through AIDS Run & Walk Chicago and then receives 90 to 92 percent of those funds back as unrestricted funding for their organization. These funds help organizations like Erie better support people living with HIV.
Understanding the impact of these funds, Margaret works hard every year to raise money for her team.
“It’s become a way to both fundraise for a good cause and show solidarity and enthusiasm for the team and my patients,” Margaret said. “(It’s) something tangible and useful that I can do for them besides the work I already do as a physician.”
This year, Margaret set her highest fundraising goal yet and quickly surpassed it, an accomplishment that has a special place in Margaret’s heart because she fundraised in honor of her twin brother who recently passed away. She was touched to see that many of his loved ones made an extra effort to donate to her campaign, knowing how important this cause is to her and remembering how he always supported her efforts.
Margaret’s fundraising campaign will remain open for donations until November 19, but on October 2 she and the rest of the Erie team were able to gather and celebrate their advocacy at the 2021 AIDS Run & Walk Chicago event. Margaret recalls how exciting it was to be at Soldier Field, surrounded by others who share her passion for supporting people living with HIV.
“It was a beautiful day,” Margaret said. “There’s something very energizing about being there.”
Margaret plans to continue advocating and fundraising in the future. She has seen firsthand how the money raised through AIDS Run & Walk Chicago benefits her patients living with HIV by funding support groups and assisting patients with medical and transportation expenses. Participating in AIDS Run & Walk Chicago every year has also been a wonderful reminder that she is not alone in her mission to help people living with HIV thrive.
“My favorite thing about it is seeing this broader community come together for one purpose: to support people living with HIV,” Margaret said.
It’s not too late to support Margaret’s mission. Click here to support people living with HIV in the Chicagoland area.