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Saving Lives: Courtney Hollowell, M.D.

Both inside and beyond the operating room, this humble surgeon goes the distance to improve men’s health in our community

To whom much is given even more is expected” are the early memories of the encouraging words my father would say sitting on the edge of my bed while I fell asleep at night. No dream was too big as I saw myself as a future astronaut, nuclear physicist, engineer or even surgeon. We were taught that dreaming wasn’t the problem, but to have never tried was. Growing up in Detroit, the sixth of seven children, my mother watched over us like a hawk. She gave us a good example of a loving, caring environment from which anything was possible. My father is a well-respected physician who broke racial barriers in medicine decades ago. I grew up watching his example, as he treated Detroit’s underserved patients and mentored others rising in his wake. It was through his example that I became the man I am today.

It was my father who taught me that philanthropy is not just about giving money—it’s about giving of one’s self. It’s about lifting up and reaching out.

When I decided to become a surgeon, it was not only because I wanted to make a difference. I became a surgeon because I loved science and the challenge of life-long learning. But soon I realized that with the gift of healing hands came a great responsibility to make the world better, one person, one family, one community at a time.

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Recently, a mother and her son came to me at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital where I’m the chief of urology. She’d been told by several doctors that her son, who ignored his symptoms for some time, had inoperable cancer. But she refused to give up on him. Desperate for a second opinion, she asked me to review his case, and in the end, I decided to operate. When I was able to look her in the eye and say, “We were able to get it all,” I was reminded of the power to change lives through the blessing of science.

It is unacceptable that many men wait until something is seriously wrong before going to the doctor. Recognizing that health begins long before anyone steps into a doctor’s office, I developed the Men’s Health Initiative to promote wellness, prevention and the understanding of common health conditions. Through innovative community health programing, men learn the importance of health care instead of sick care. With the help of strong community partnerships, I see a day where men aren’t being dragged into doctor’s offices by their loved ones. Instead, they are taking pro-active control of their well-being, and serving as an example for their partners, children and communities.

In addition to our Men’s Health Initiative, I am most proud of what we have been able to do to affect the future of medicine. With our Tomorrow’s Doctors program we are working to expose our youth to the possibilities of medicine as a career. I am hoping that we can inspire the magic of medicine in the minds of underrepresented children. With the right encouragement and exposure, the door of possibilities can be opened, making today’s children “tomorrow’s doctors.”

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On the front lines of fighting cancer, Courtney Hollowell, M.D., is a physician and the chairman of urology for the Cook County Health and Hospitals System. Dr. Hollowell has published numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals and is nationally recognized as an expert in urologic oncology (prostate, kidney, bladder, penile and testicular cancers), genitourinary trauma/reconstructive surgery and men’s health issues.

For more from the 28 Men of Change series, go to

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