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Six Generations of Family Medicine Care

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Growing up in Chicago, Cynthia Thomas, MD, didn’t always dream of being a doctor, but she wanted a career where she could help others and excelled at math and science in middle school. After hearing about the shortage of doctors in underserved areas of her community, in high school she decided that medicine was where she wanted to be. While life’s twists and turns moved her out of her Chicago community and to Springfield with her husband, her passion for community and family medicine moved with her.

After graduating from SIU School of Medicine in 1991 and completing her residency in 1994, Dr. Thomas worked at a community health center in Decatur for a few years. In 1997, she joined SIU’s Department of Family and Community Medicine as a faculty member and practicing physician, a role she still has today. She serves 730 patients in the Springfield area.

“Community medicine is really important to me – serving the community and being part of the community,” she says. “You have an opportunity to care for not only an entire person, but the entire family. You learn what genetic conditions cross generations and can help patients learn how their family history has an impact on their health.”

Family and Community Medicine is a field of primary care that allows doctors to treat the entire family. At SIU School of Medicine, our founders saw a need for more primary care doctors in central and southern Illinois more than 50 years ago.

“One of the foundational principles of the SIU School of Medicine was a social accountability to the people of central and southern Illinois,” said Jerry Kruse, MD, MPSH, dean and provost of SIU School of Medicine. “Early on, our region saw a severe shortage of primary care physicians, and thus, we have always had an emphasis on family medicine programs. While we strive to address all the health needs of this area, the continued development of primary care programs and the training of primary care physicians remains a core tenet of our operations and vision.”

Every day, physicians like Dr. Thomas are meeting the needs of a broad range of families. However, it’s somewhat remarkable when a doctor has been the medical care provider for six generations within a single family.

Yet Thomas has done just that. From helping to birth babies to helping the elderly thrive in their golden years, she’s been a reassuring presence for the Holloway family.

Zevernett Holloway, who goes by Zee, is a retired nurse, and knows the importance of the doctor-patient relationship. She started seeing Dr. Thomas at SIU Center for Family Medicine-Springfield many years ago.

“I was the first one in the family to see her,” Holloway says. “At one point, I needed a new doctor and was connected with Dr. Thomas. I was immediately impressed with her attentiveness, and convinced my mother to switch to see her too.”

Dr. Thomas treated Holloway’s mother, Sabreen Abdullah, for many years before she passed earlier this year. As part of residency training in Family Medicine, residents are required to do two “home visits” each year.

“Sabreen was a favorite of the residents; she was so appreciative of our care and loved encouraging the residents to learn while they did home visits to the nursing home,” Dr. Thomas says.

“Mom always told the residents, ‘When you get to be my age, your modesty is gone. So have a look at everything.’ She was very comfortable working with residents,” says Holloway.

Her grandmother also saw Dr. Thomas for a short period prior to her death.

It was a natural fit for Dr. Thomas to take care of more and more of Holloway’s family.

“Dr. Thomas does not leave anything uncovered,” Holloway said. “The most pleasant thing about her is her nature. She treats you like you are her family. Whatever you might want to talk about, she’s going to ask you questions to find out what’s the best outcome for your health. She was also very respectful as my kids got older. She keeps their confidentiality, and she takes the time to address every one of your concerns.”

Holloway has a history of hypertension, or high blood pressure, and regularly discusses this with Thomas.

“For a long time, I didn’t want to take anything for it,” she says. Her reluctance eventually led to an ER visit and a subsequent appointment with Thomas. “She would not even let me drive home that day because my pressure was so high.” Holloway now takes a new medication regularly. “Dr. Thomas followed my every movement very closely during that time.”

Thomas also provided care for Holloway’s three children, Charles, Tameria (Wheatley) and Arteria (Galbreath). As they became adults, the daughters began bringing their children — and eventually grandchildren — to see Dr. Thomas, as well.

Galbreath’s children Fabian Grisby Jr., Zaleigh Grisby (and her three children), and Tyrin Grisby also came to SIU Center for Family Medicine for part of their health care.

As an alumni of the SIU School of Medicine, Dr. Thomas describes how some lessons learned in medical school resonate today.

“At SIU, the introduction to clinical medicine takes place very early in training,” she said. “One thing I love about our programs is the simulated patient experience. It has made medical students and residents comfortable talking to patients and instills the importance of good patient-physician interaction and relationships. I still use some of the tools I was taught years ago in my practice today.”

Retired Nurse Holloway values the spectrum of family care Dr. Thomas has provided through the years, and continues to refer her newest grandbabies to her.

“Dr. Thomas is just the top,” she said. “She always cares about what I am going through.”

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