By Belen Edwards
According to Dr. Gomez Charleston, AB’71, MD’75, his heart has always been at the University of Chicago. A graduate of both the College and the Pritzker School of Medicine, Dr. Charleston met his wife at UChicago and went on to send his daughter to the Laboratory Schools. Now he works as a physician at Student Health and Counseling Services, providing primary care for students.
Dr. Charleston’s career spans over forty years: after graduating from medical school, he did his internship and residency in internal medicine at Michael Reese Hospital in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, as well as a fellowship in cardiology. He went on to open a private practice in the South Side of Chicago before starting at the Student Health Service in February of 2018.
“Working at Student Health feels like a homecoming,” Dr. Charleston said. “I plan to make this my last job, the last stage of my career. It’s a good way to finish, plus I’m giving back to the University.”
At the Student Health Service, Dr. Charleston is prepared to deal with a range of ailments, from sore throats to acute appendicitis. Thanks to his specialization in cardiology, he also follows up with students who have complicating heart issues or who have had some form of heart surgery.
“It’s a different direction for my career,” Dr. Charleston said about shifting from running a private practice to working at the Student Health Service. “I went from seeing patients whose average age was 70 to patients whose average age is 25. I’m trained to work with either, but this is a different level of responsibility and approach, and I enjoy it.”
The Student Health Service and students’ reactions to it changed drastically during the time in which Dr. Charleston was working elsewhere. “When I was a student here, I think I went to Student Health once or twice,” Dr. Charleston said. “Back then, I don’t think young people took their health as seriously as they do now. Today, [students] are coming in for checkups, physicals, and wellness visits.”
The range of care available to students has increased as well. “When I first started practice, we didn’t have MRIs or CAT scans. All we had were blood tests, good histories, and physicals,” Dr. Charleston said. “Now, thanks to all the advances in technology, it’s become a whole different world for students to take advantage of.”
With the construction of the new Student Wellness Center, the Student Health Service is about to expand even further. “At Student Health, there’s an attitude towards constantly trying fix things when they’re not going well,” Dr. Charleston said, referring to the upcoming opening of the new facility and increasing staff. “Everyone I work with is so helpful: the front desk staff, the people who answer the phones, the coordinators, the nurses, the other providers.”
Another aspect of the job that Dr. Charleston emphasizes is the relationship between physician and student. “The most important people to the University are the students, undergraduates and graduates. Their health is something I take very seriously,” he said. “I look at them like my children, sometimes. I know they have parents and grandparents, and I know what their parents expect, so I try to give them the best.”
Dr. Charleston is praised by many patients who see him, a fact in which he takes great pride. “The gratification of people liking the service they receive, that makes you want to keep working. Being a physician is something I’ve always wanted to do, and what I’ve always done is take care of people,” Dr. Charleston said. “It doesn’t matter who the people are, if you’re going to take care of them you’re going to do the best you can.”