Dr. Melissa Gilliam


While doing her residency at Northwestern Memorial, Melissa Gilliam delivered a baby to a young woman whose mother had accompanied her to the hospital. “What a great 29th-birthday gift—a grandchild!” cried the ecstatic grandma. As for the baby’s mother: She was 14.

That moment stuck with Gilliam, who grew up in Washington, D.C., the daughter of an artist and a journalist. Eighteen years later, she is the chief of family planning and contraceptive research and the head of the gynecologic program for children, adolescents, and young women at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

She works with patients across a wide economic spectrum. Some are dealing with issues that affect their sexual development. Others face illnesses—such as lupus—that complicate their use of contraceptives. But the problems associated with teen pregnancies remain Gilliam’s preoccupation. “These are bigger issues than what an ob-gyn can address,” she says. “I need economists, social scientists, specialists in education.”

Consider it done. Within the next few months, Gilliam, 46, expects to announce the creation of a new center in Hyde Park that will bring a cross-discipline approach to enriching the lives of at-risk kids. “Hopefully,” she says, “we can interrupt the cycle of poverty and poor education that perpetuates across generations.” For more about Gilliam and her efforts to stop teen pregnancies, go to chicagomag.com/drgilliam.

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Photograph: Anna Knott