Like many teachers, Carl E. Lambert, Jr., MD, knows that his work makes a difference. But in just four years since joining the Rush Medical College faculty as an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine, Lambert’s impact has been so significant that he’s earned recognition at the state and national level for his exceptional teaching and dedication to family medicine.
Most recently, Lambert was named the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians’ Teacher of the Year — an honor that is well deserved, says Steven K. Rothschild, MD, chair of the Department of Family Medicine at Rush.
“Whether Dr. Lambert is helping a student who is struggling with courses or a patient with a life-threatening diagnosis, he extends himself fearlessly and wholeheartedly,” Rothschild says. “This is what makes him such a valuable role model for our students. In him, they can see the best of what it means to be a physician. And, I can honestly say that as a colleague, he inspires me to be a better teacher and clinician.”
As one of the first master educators for Rush’s new integrated preclinical curriculum, Lambert works with all first-year medical students over the course of the year and consistently earns the highest ratings on student evaluations.
For Lambert, teaching aspiring physicians is life-affirming work. “Just seeing them grow and evolve brings me a tremendous amount of joy,” he says. “And it helps remind me that what I’m doing actually matters and has an impact.”
Lambert also received recognition this year as a Top Healthcare Professional Under 40 by the National Medical Association, the largest organization representing African American physicians in the United States. The award is given to individuals who exemplify the ideals of the NMA and have shown particular dedication to the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As medical director of Rush University Family Physicians, Lambert has led the practice’s transition to telemedicine so that its diverse and medically complex patients — including many who are homeless — do not lose access to care during the pandemic. His patients recognize his dedication as well: Lambert’s patient satisfaction scores are consistently above the 95th percentile nationally.
Inspired to serve the vulnerable
Lambert, who grew up in Calumet Park, was drawn to a career in medicine after joining his parents on doctor visits for his two younger brothers who have autism and special needs. “I knew early on that I wanted to do something like that to help people who couldn’t help themselves, people who were vulnerable,” he says.
Lambert became a first-year medical student at Rush in 2007 and recalls the challenges of being the only Black student in his class. When he joined the faculty in 2016, he made it his mission to help underrepresented students feel supported. “Teaching is a labor of love for me because I always remember that in the back of my mind,” he says. “I want every student, no matter their color or creed, to have a safe space and just know that they belong.”
Educator, role model and mentor
As an educator, Lambert strives to break down some of the power hierarchies in medical school by letting students know that he is accessible and eager to help them succeed, whatever path they take in medicine. “As you build relationships with students, you figure out what their gifts are, and you try to guide them to experiences and opportunities that will help them flourish,” he says.
Niyi Soetan, a third-year medical student at Rush, says Lambert is one of the most dedicated, supportive teachers he has ever had. “He creates a positive environment that encourages people to be better and takes away the fear of failure that lots of people in med school worry about,” he says.
Soetan recalls meeting Lambert in one of his basic science classes during his first year. “He was the first Black male physician I ever saw face to face,” Soetan says. “That was significant for me, and he introduced himself right away and let me know that he’d be a support for me if I ever needed anything.”
He also admires Lambert for stressing the importance of self-care to avoid burnout as a physician. “He’s very transparent about when he’s having a tough time and needs to take a step back,” Soetan says. “That’s something that is unique in medicine because vulnerability is often something that people hide.”
Lambert’s honesty and kindness have made him an inspiring mentor for other Rush students, including those in the Family Medicine Leadership Program, which he directs.
Ruthe Ali, a second-year medical student who has gotten to know Dr. Lambert through his advisory work with the Student National Medical Association chapter at Rush, says his leadership goes beyond ensuring student academic and clinical excellence. “Dr. Lambert invests in students’ overall well-being,” she says, adding that always makes time to communicate and connect with students.
Lambert also has an active role in supporting a diverse and inclusive environment at Rush. He is a member of the Rush University Racial Justice Action Committee, which was developed to identify opportunities to dismantle systemic racism and promote racial and social justice throughout Rush and beyond.
In a year when racial and health inequities have grabbed national attention, Lambert has let many Black students know that they aren’t alone, and that they can be agents of change. “Students have a lot of power, and they can use it for good,” he says.
Living life with grace
When he’s not working, Lambert is often at the gym or running with his wife, Adrienne, who is a therapist. Last year, he participated in a 10-mile Spartan race with some of his first-year medical students. He also serves on the board of the Lawndale Christian Health Center, which provides quality, affordable health care to residents of Lawndale and neighboring communities.
Lambert says his faith is the anchor that keeps him grounded in his work, while students and faculty say his grace and positivity set him apart in the classroom and at the bedside. “As students, we have a great deal of respect for him because of how he carries himself and how he is as a person,” Soetan says. “It’s very clear that his patients mean a lot to him and that he wants to serve them.”
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