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Margaret Fitzpatrick, RN

WIU Alumna Advises People "What to Ask the Doc"

June 24, 2004

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MACOMB, IL - - In sickness and in health it is important to know “What to Ask the Doc,” according to Margaret Fitzpatrick, a registered nurse and alumna of Western Illinois University who co-authored the book that was published in October 2003 by RN Interactive, Inc.

“The goal of the book is to help parents and families to communicate more effectively with their physicians,” said Fitzpatrick, a trauma nurse specialist who has worked at two premier Chicago hospitals: Advocate Christ Medical Center’s emergency room, the busiest level one trauma center in Illinois, where she earned the MVP award in 2002; and at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in the hospice unit and surgical intensive care unit (SICU).

Since the bookÂ’s release, Fitzpatrick has had a whirlwind of media interviews, appearances on national television and book discussions and signings. The information blitz began in earnest when Fitzpatrick and co-author Linda Burke, RN, were interviewed by Katie Couric on the Today Show (Jan. 6, 2004). Fitzpatrick recently appeared on CNN Headline News (June 3). She has also been featured on ABC 7 News Chicago, WTTW Chicago Tonight and World Talk Radio. The book reached the ranking of No. 6 bestseller on Amazon. It is also featured on a dedicated website,

The concept for the book came from FitzpatrickÂ’s work in emergency and intensive care units.

“After working with so many patients and families in the SICU and ER, I came up with the concept for the book and asked two colleagues - - Linda Burke and Daryl Lee - - to help me write it,” Fitzpatrick said. “We started writing out questions for patients and their family members because they were asking (the doctors) general questions and getting general answers and weren’t getting much satisfaction out of that. We made lists of the questions we heard in ICU and the ER. The more research we did, the more we learned that people ask more questions when they buy a car than when they are having surgery.”

“What to Ask the Doc” addresses more than 70 healthcare topics, ranging from diabetes to fever to hysterectomies to congestive heart failure to Alzheimer’s. Each topic includes 10 to 20 suggested questions, cross-references, tips and links to additional resources.

“Rather than giving advice, this book empowers people,” Fitzpatrick said. “We feel it is better to give people the important questions so they can have a meaningful conversation with the doctor. When you know what questions to ask, your confidence increases and so does your peace of mind.”

Fitzpatrick, the youngest of 16 children born and raised on ChicagoÂ’s South Side, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from Western Illinois in 1985.

“The reason I went to Western is because I had a sister at both Northern and Southern and I wanted somewhere different. No one in my family had attended WIU and that appealed to me,” she said.

“I consider my time there a gift because I was aware of what a great indulgence it was to spend four years reading philosophy and history. I knew I would never have a time like that again,” Fitzpatrick added. “The 1980s were a time when students were concentrating on business degrees and law enforcement. Going to college for most of them was like a vocational school rather than a time to study unusual and interesting topics. People always asked me ‘Philosophy major? What are you going to do with that?’ I would respond ‘Anything I want!’”

“Margaret was an excellent student with a very positive and optimistic attitude,” said Bryant Keeling, philosophy studies professor emeritus. “She showed strong leadership qualities, serving as president of the philosophy student organization; and she was a major asset to the department, organizing events and programs and assisting with recruitment activities.”

“Margaret was a very mature young woman, with a strong social consciousness,” added Mario Morelli, chair of Western’s philosophy and religious studies department.

Fitzpatrick gives credit to her parents.

“My parents really instilled a sense of social responsibility in us growing up. They were active in politics and civil rights, and that is where I got my desire to impact the lives of people in trouble,” she said.

Following graduation, Fitzpatrick worked with social service agencies in Chicago, first with teenage mothers and then with homeless mentally ill people. In 1989 she started her own business, a successful after-school program for latchkey children. Five years later, when her own children were in pre-school, she went back to school and earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Rush University.

“Nursing was always in the back of my mind as an option, and when I was with Healthcare for the Homeless I worked with some extraordinary nurses who really showed me what a great opportunity nursing is to be a part of a patient's life and to make a difference,” Fitzpatrick said. “I have always felt that nursing is a privilege.”

The past four years, Fitzpatrick has worked full-time as a school nurse at Morgan Park Academy in Chicago; and in 2002 she was honored by the Mayor and City of Chicago for actions related to her work.

“I used to work weekends at the ER too, but with promoting the book it got to be too much,” she said. “And recently we have been focusing on presenting the book to benefit managers at corporations. We really think that the book could be a valuable tool for employees to help them to use their healthcare dollars more efficiently.

“Forty-five percent of Americans have at least one chronic disease. If they manage their health correctly, complications can be avoided,” she added. “As employers pay higher rates for health insurance, we think that people need to take a more proactive approach to their health.”

As for her publishing future, Fitzpatrick said, “I imagine that more books will be forthcoming. This is a field that has a great deal of potential.”

That could be good for her alma mater too, because of what she wrote in an e-mail to Professor Morelli, “Hopefully I will have a bestseller and will be able to give back to the department someday!”

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