Dr. Marian Sassetti, of Lake Street Family Physicians in Oak Park, passionately believes that family medicine and community service go hand-in-hand — it is a conviction she makes manifest in her practice, in her deep involvement in numerous local nonprofits, and in her contributions to her profession. It was no surprise, then, to anyone (but her) that she was honored as the 2021 Family Physician of the Year by the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians (IAFP). The IAFP is nominating for the national award this year.
Sassetti did not intend to be a doctor — she thought she would be a social worker. However, she discovered an interest in science while attending Trinity High School and was encouraged to consider a career in medicine. Trinity made a huge impact in her life and she was thrilled to receive the Alumnae Leadership Award last year.
“I had so many rich experiences at Trinity — Student Council, plays, choir and intramurals. I was even in a speech contest — and was surprised to learn that I had speaking and leadership skills. I often say that Trinity taught me how to ‘unmute’ myself (before that was a word),” Sassetti said.
After high school, Sassetti pursued a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Northwestern University, graduating summa cum laude, before attending medical school at Stanford University. She did a residency at Cook County Hospital, where she was confronted with the social determinants of healthcare.
“I saw how the lack of power and resources can impact patients’ health. This was a real epiphany — and it motivated me to go into family medicine so I could get at the root causes of patients’ health issues. Family physicians were the ones talking about social justice and access to healthcare,” Sassetti said.
An ardent advocate for the marginalized, Sassetti is a staunch supporter of the Affordable Care Act, which she views as a pro-life movement and the right thing to do — financially and morally.
“I haven’t met many family physicians who aren’t for universal healthcare. Access to healthcare is a human right. And it saves society money by helping physicians detect health issues before they become full-blown problems,” she said.
The residency also introduced Sassetti to the complexity of domestic violence, the impact of which she saw in her patients but which was hard to confront because of its stigmatization. She designed a curriculum to help physicians recognize and treat victims, and now serves as the IAFP’s leading expert in sexual harassment training and was a member of the American Medical Association’s task force on family violence.
Sassetti serves as vice president of the board of Sarah’s Inn, a local agency serving those impacted by domestic violence. She helped create the agency’s Youth Voice Award to give high school students a platform for expressing their thoughts or experiences regarding domestic violence.
Sassetti is adamant that mental health and physical health are intertwined and must be treated concomitantly. She was president of The Well Spirituality Center in LaGrange for many years and served on the board of Thrive Counseling Center, which honored her with the 2017 Spirit of Thrive Award.
“I have never met a doctor who is more dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community than Marian,” said Steve Parker, an Oak Park family therapist and Thrive board member. “In the tradition of a country doctor, Marian not only cares for the physical health of her patients but their emotional and mental health as well.”
In addition to her community service, Sassetti is dedicated to her profession. She is working with the IAFP on a podcast to help physicians develop systems for getting Illinois citizens vaccinated. As an assistant professor of family medicine at Rush University Medical Center, she volunteers at a free community clinic, working with medical students who serve the poor and uninsured. She is a proponent of allowing medical students to shadow physicians who can model the skills that can’t be learned in lecture halls or through inpatient rotations.
Inspired by her parents, who instilled in her the importance of giving back, Sassetti has built an estimable career that, ultimately, has combined her initial interest in social work with medicine.
“My father raised me to consider the question, at the end of life, what have you done with the gifts that you were given? I have been so fortunate to be involved with so many visionary people who bring out the best in me and in others.”