Linda Forst, MD
Primary Affiliation: Equity, Justice, and Human Flourishing Working Group
Center for Healthy Work, School of Public Health | University of Illinois Chicago
Convening Public Dialogues
Facilitating Policy Discussions
Translating Scholarship to Policy
Crafting Policies from People
Dr. Forst is a Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences in a School of Public Health, with over 30 years of experience in occupational health research, training, teaching, and continuous patient care in Occupational Medicine. She has completed several multi-year field projects as PI and Co-I with precarious worker populations, including migrant farm workers, day labor construction workers, and workers hired through temporary staffing companies. She established the Illinois Occupational Surveillance Program, a NIOSH funded program which conducts occupational illness and injury surveillance; our focus is low-wage, immigrant, minority, and contingent workers. She has used usual and untapped databases, conducting data linkage to improve case capture and better identify risk factors to target, implement, and evaluate interventions. She works with a network of government agencies, employers, workers, and worker advocates to share actionable data and plan policy and practice interventions to protect the health and well-being of the Illinois workforce. Dr. Forst participated in several working groups to develop case definitions and risk categories for surveillance and research of occupational COVID-19. She is committed to mentoring the careers of junior faculty–next gen occupational health researchers–and has established multiple collaborative and mentoring relationships within the context of this Agricultural Safety and Health Center. The Center leadership role brings together all her discipline-specific training in agriculture, genetics, medicine, and public health, her leadership roles as a department chair, senior associate dean, and PI on community-engaged research programs, as well as her commitment to fostering health justice and equity for unfairly disadvantaged worker populations.
Medical Board Certifications
Diplomate, American Board of Internal Medicine, 1988
Diplomate, American Board of Preventive Medicine (Occupational Medicine), 1991
State of Illinois, Physician and Surgeon, #036-070836
2008- Present: Professor (with tenure), UIC School of Public Health
2000-2008: Associate Professor (with tenure), UIC School of Public Health
1998-2000: Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine (with tenure), UIC College of Medicine
1995-1998: Assistant Professor (tenure track), Emergency Medicine, UIC College of Medicine
1991-1994: Assistant Professor (tenure track), Department of Medicine, UIC College of Medicine
1977 – B.S., Michigan State University
1980 – M.S., University of Arizona
1983 – M.D., Michigan State University
1983-87 – Cook County Hospital Residency, Internal Medicine & Preventive/Occupational Medicine, Chicago, Illinois
1987 – M. Public Health, University of Illinois Chicago
Policies from People, for People
One important generator of policy is the lived experiences of actual people, especially during times of immense need. Gathering these insights is one thrust of Professor Wilson’s work, an approach that can loosely be described as “Policies from People, for People.” IGPA has developed innovations to help lift the voices of actual people, including the Citizen Scientist Journaling Project and the surveys of panels of experts, the Pandemic Stress Indicator Project, led by Professor Brian Gaines. These initiatives especially resonate with elected officials because they mirror an important generator of policy—constituent feedback—with a rigorous, systematic process that reaches across the entire state or region.
Dialogues on Tolerance
Many culture war clashes need not be a war at all: antiquated laws trap us into deciding to preference one interest over another when, in fact, they can be melded. Millennials and Generation Z are actively bridging culture war divides, which is no surprise since they have grown up with unprecedented diversity and openness to one another. If we are to heal a fractured society, we should amplify their voices and learn from them. The Tolerance Means Dialogues (TMD), a project co-founded with Yale University Professor William N. Eskridge, Jr., generates dialogue around deeply contested questions in civil society by hosting Dialogues at colleges and universities across the nation, offering scholarships to essay winners who provide the most compelling advice on what tolerance means to them and how to live together in a diverse society. This important work is made possible by a gift from Templeton Religion Trust.
$500,000 MacArthur Grant
Professors Wilson, Mendenhall, and others are now working to expand the Citizen Scientists approach through a new project: Centering Youth’s Health and Wellness: Designing a Third Reconstruction and Chicago Renaissance. This project seeks to create a culture of innovation that centers on the health and wellness of Black and Latinx high school students and young adults (up to age 21) living in Chicago. These students and young adults will also act as Community Health Workers and Citizen Scientists to document health disparities and offer solutions, with a generous grant of $500,000 from the MacArthur Foundation.
16 Citizen Scientists
Together with Professor Ruby Mendenhall at UIUC, Professor Wilson has convened the Citizen Scientists Journaling on COVID-19 Project in an effort to better understand how Illinois residents have managed socially, emotionally, and economically during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sixteen Illinois residents journaled here once a week for six months. The project drew from those most affected by the pandemic—older persons; persons presently incarcerated; persons in rural communities; members of the homeless community; and members of the Black, Latinx, and LGBT communities, and more. These individuals’ journals teach lessons about community, faith, resilience, halting progress, overcoming—and even the efficacy of public policies being put in place in real-time by a government struggling to mitigate impacts on people.
Access to Justice
In a collaboration between the National Center for State Courts and IGPA, Professors Wilson, Jason Mazzone, and Brian Gaines have launched a large-scale examination of how pandemic-related changes to court operations impacted cases and access to the legal system: the COVID-19 and the Operation of Courts Project. A national survey – constructed after two dozen focus groups in Illinois, South Carolina, and Ohio with judges, lawyers, litigants, jurors, and court staff – is presently in the field. The goal is to determine what has worked and what hasn’t. A key preliminary finding is that when court proceedings move online, digital divides exacerbate problems of access to justice. Learning not only from presiding judges, court personnel, and attorneys, but also from litigants themselves, the project is documenting innovative approaches like kiosks pioneered by some jurisdictions to overcome the digital divide.
Medicalization of Poverty
Professor Wilson co-convened with University of Virginia Professor Lois Shepherd the Medicalization of Poverty Symposium, published in the Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics. The Symposium brings together experts in medicine, law, policy, and ethics to explore the connection between poverty, disease burden, and healthcare expenditures. A number of diseases are strongly linked to poverty, and poverty is a strong predictor of health status. A second aspect of poverty is less well-explored: we spend inordinate amounts of money and other resources to address healthcare needs brought on by poverty instead of providing for the tangible needs of the poor before illness results — a phenomenon we call the Medicalization of Poverty. We treat the symptom, not the problem. Rather than adequately address poor housing conditions and prenatal care, we offer inhalers and NICUs. This approach comes at both a financial and a human cost. The Symposium asks, “How Can We Do Better?” In 2021, the Medicalization of Poverty was published as a book in China with Professor Lois Shepherd and Professor Lei (David) Shi, associate professor at Southwest University of Political Science and Law.
Fairness for All
Professor Wilson founded the Fairness for All Initiative to provide tangible support and advice to thought-leaders, stakeholders, policymakers, and state and local legislators who seek balanced approaches that respect both LGBT rights and religious freedom. Made possible by the generous support of the Templeton Religion Trust, Professor Wilson’s work draws extensively on her experience assisting the Utah Legislature when it enacted its landmark 2015 nondiscrimination laws. The Fairness for All bill, H.R.5331, introduced in December 2019, draws on Professor Wilson’s policy proposals relating to foster care and adoption.