Gurnee doctor is 'Family Physician of the Year'
She is intrepid, dances the salsa, and has raised three children while working full time. And, she is an award-winning doctor.
Dr. Elba Villavincencio, who is affiliated with the NorthShore University HealthSystem, was named 2015 "Family Physician of the Year" in October by the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians.
"If I can change the life of one person, I feel that my job makes sense," said Villavincencio, who lives in Buffalo Grove. "That is my daily life, to help people to change for the better."
Her road to the United States was not an easy one. After graduating medical school at Central University of Ecuador, she followed her husband -- a medical doctor in research -- to Bogota, Columbia, for his job. To continue in her medical specialty of anesthesia, she first had to work as a primary care physician in a rural area of Bogota, which is filled with inherent dangers, particularly drug cartels that sponsor violent militant groups.
While many male doctors were scared off after just several months because of the crime and violence in rural Bogota, Villavincencio said she served the villagers for two years.
In June 2001, her husband was offered a promotion with a company in New York City. So they packed their bags and headed to the United States. She worked at Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn, where she came to a crossroads in her career -- pursue her specialty in anesthesia or continue in family medicine.
It was her experience in Bogota that led her to continue in family medicine.
The family's move to Chicago in 2012 led to Villavincencio's arrival at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Gurnee.
Villavincencio was nominated for the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians' award by patient Vicky Soberano, 49, of Antioch.
Soberano said she had been smoking since she was 15 years old, and her husband wanted her to quit.
"Sometimes my husband and I would have fights about my smoking," said Soberano, who added she had been trying to quit smoking for 20 years.
Villavincencio got Soberano to start exercising one hour every other day. She also was Soberano's emotional support and told her to call any time of the day or night if Soberano had the urge to smoke.
Soberano said she has not had a cigarette since August 2013, has lost 25 pounds and her relationship with her husband has greatly improved.
"It was the empathy and compassion Dr. Villavincencio demonstrated that caused me to nominate her for family physician of the year," she said.
Villavincencio, who became a U.S. Citizen in 2005, is a proponent of exercise and stresses there are many ways to work out besides going to the gym.
And the doctor practices what she preaches. She is an advanced salsa dancer and she and her husband salsa dance 10 to 12 hours per week at Latin Street Dancing Inc. in Chicago. She said she dances for fun and exercise and uses dancing as an expression of cultural social issues.