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New global primary care center to foster health care equity in the developing world

Focus of the Ryan Family Center for Global Primary Care is to collaborate with partner institutions in international environments where critical health care is most needed
Ryan gift
With support from the Ryan Family Center for Global Primary Care, Feinberg faculty will conduct research and support scientific laboratories in collaborating institutions, and students and trainees will travel globally for pilot projects in primary care research.

Northwestern University has announced a major new center focused on improving the quality of primary care to improve primary care services and systems throughout the world.

A gift from the Patrick G. ’59, ’09 H (’97, ’00 P) and Shirley W. Ryan ’61, ’19 H (’97, ’00 P) Family will endow the Ryan Family Center for Global Primary Care within Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine’s Robert J. Havey, MD Institute for Global Health, whose mission is to improve health for a better world. 

The primary care center’s focus within that aim is to collaborate with partner institutions in international environments where critical health care is most needed. Northwestern will help identify opportunities for research and training, build capacity for more primary care patients and, ultimately, improve health promotion, disease prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care. The gift is part of a transformational $480 million gift from the Ryan Family to the University that was announced in September 2021.

“This wonderful gift from the Ryan Family enables Northwestern to expand our critically important work across the globe to improve lives and transform human health,” said Dr. Eric G. Neilson, Lewis Landsberg Dean and Vice President for Medical Affairs at Feinberg. “It is support like this that accelerates the pace of discovery for some of society’s most important health issues. We are very grateful for their commitment to the science in medicine.”

With the center’s support, Feinberg faculty will conduct research and support scientific laboratories in these collaborating institutions, and Feinberg students and trainees will travel globally for pilot projects in primary care research.

“With this visionary gift, the Ryans are putting Northwestern’s faculty in a position to help reinvent primary care on a global scale,” Northwestern President Michael H. Schill said. “This represents one of our most urgent directives as an institution, one with as far-reaching effects as anything undertaken at a university like ours.” 

Dr. Robert J. Havey ’80 MD, ’83 GME, ’84 GME (’08, ’13 P), deputy director of the Havey Institute for Global Health, said the goal of the Institute for Global Health is to find sustainable solutions to improve the health and health care of populations in under-resourced countries around the world. He noted that primary care is the foundation needed for health care to be affordable and effective. 

“The new Ryan Family Center for Global Primary Care will allow the Institute to find more efficient ways to improve and expand primary care systems to serve the billions of people around the world who currently have poor access to quality health care,” said Havey, also a clinical professor of medicine in the division of general internal medicine and geriatrics, and a long-time general internist with Northwestern Medical Group. “This is a humanitarian, economic and social stability crisis, occurring at a time of unprecedented global population growth. All of us at the Institute are grateful to the Ryan Family for recognizing and helping support this critical need.”

Philanthropic investments

As the largest donors in Northwestern’s history, the Ryan Family has made broad and deep philanthropic investments across the institution, including academics. The Ryans have given in support of hundreds of different University programs. Among the most notable are:

  • Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Hall is the home of Northwestern’s International Institute for Nanotechnology (IIN), which brings together chemists, engineers, biologists, physicians and business experts from across the University searching for small answers to large, complex problems in areas as diverse as medicine, information technology, energy, homeland security, food and water safety, and transportation.
  • The Ryan Family also contributed significantly to lab and research space within the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center on the Chicago campus. 
  • Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Family Fellowship in Nanotechnology prepares top graduate students to assume leadership roles in academia and industry. Over the last 15 years, 218 fellows have been funded from 10 different departments across multiple disciplines. Approximately half of former Ryan Fellows have gone on to careers in academia; 44% are in industry; 4% are employed at other institutions, such as governmental agencies, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations and hospitals; and 2% are continuing their education.
  • The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts is the architecturally acclaimed home on the shores of Lake Michigan of the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music as well as the theater and performance studies departments and administrative offices of the School of Communication. The center was dedicated on the Evanston campus in 2015. 
  • The Ryan Family Chair Challenge has dramatically advanced research and teaching at Northwestern by driving the creation of endowed professorships across the University. During We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern, the Ryan Family Chair Challenge matched gifts made by other Northwestern donors to establish 25 new endowed professorships, or chairs, across a wide range of disciplines including screen and stage writing, nanotechnology and biomedical engineering. The chairs will provide a dedicated source of funds for the chairholders’ scholarly activities and underwrite salaries for these faculty and members of their research teams.
  • The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Family Scholars Program provides financial support for high-achieving, low-income undergraduate students with exceptional leadership potential. Each year, in partnership with Student Enrichment Services, the Financial Aid Office designates a diverse group of 20 to 25 incoming students as Ryan Scholars based on their community involvement, civic engagement and financial need. Ryan Scholars have the opportunity to participate in community-building activities and cultural outings throughout the academic year. Since the program began, 297 students have participated in the Ryan Scholars Program.   

About Pat and Shirley Ryan

Patrick G. Ryan is a 1959 Northwestern graduate. He received his undergraduate degree in business from what was then called the School of Business and now is named the Kellogg School of Management. He also received an honorary degree from the University in 2009 in appreciation for his 14 years of service as chairman of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees. In 2013, he was inducted into Northwestern’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

Shirley Welsh Ryan is a 1961 Northwestern graduate. She received her undergraduate degree in English Literature from what was then called the College of Arts and Sciences and is now named the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. In 2019, Northwestern awarded Mrs. Ryan the honorary title of Doctor of Humane Letters. 

Mr. Ryan is distinguished as one of Chicago’s most successful entrepreneurs and prominent civic leaders. His first business venture while a student involved selling scrapbooks to fellow students, which paid for his Northwestern education. Mr. Ryan founded and served for 41 years as CEO of Aon Corporation, the leading global provider of risk management, insurance and reinsurance brokerage. At the time of his retirement, Aon had nearly $8 billion in annual revenue with more than 500 offices in 120 countries.

In 2010, Mr. Ryan founded Ryan Specialty, a service provider of specialty products and solutions for insurance brokers, agents and carriers. The firm provides distribution, underwriting, product development, administration and risk management services by acting as a wholesale broker and a managing underwriter.

Mr. Ryan currently serves as chairman and CEO of Ryan Specialty Holdings, Inc., which completed its initial public offering in July 2021. The firm’s shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “RYAN.” Mr. Ryan is distinct in having founded and built two major New York Stock Exchange traded insurance companies.

Mr. Ryan is a member of the Chicago Business Hall of Fame, and a member and past president of the Economic Club of Chicago. He also is a member of the International Insurance Hall of Fame and the Automotive Hall of Fame, a member and past chairman of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees, a recipient of the esteemed Horatio Alger Award and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Shirley Welsh Ryan is founder of, which is used by 40 million parents and healthcare professionals annually through its video-based website and social media in every country except North Korea. Three hundred U.S. institutions of higher learning use’s free materials. Mrs. Ryan’s pioneering work to empower every infant’s fullest physical development has won numerous awards. Two U.S. presidents have appointed her to the National Council on Disability in Washington, D.C., which advises the U.S. Congress on disability policy.

In 2017, merged with the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, acclaimed for 32 years as the number one U.S. rehabilitation hospital by U.S. News & World Report.

The Medical Round Table (P.M.R.T.), created in 1990, is the first Infant Milestone Chart of typical and atypical development to be endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (A.A.P.). All material is in accord with the leadership of P.M.R.T. and A.A.P.

Mrs. Ryan is a strong believer in the power of early infant detection, therapeutic intervention, universal accessibility, and the concept that all children can learn. She serves on the boards of University of Notre Dame, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Alain Locke Charter School and WTTW-PBS. She also has served on the boards of the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and Ronald McDonald House Charities; has chaired the Chicago Community Trust; and founded the Lincoln Park Zoo Women’s Board. For 46 years, Mrs. Ryan has led a Northwestern graduate-level course entitled Learning for Life.

Mrs. Ryan has been awarded honorary doctorates from Northwestern, the University of Notre Dame and the University of Illinois at Chicago. She also has received the Chicago History Museum Award for Distinction in Civic Leadership. 

In addition to earning her B.A. from Northwestern, Mrs. Ryan studied at the Sorbonne of the University of Paris and the Ecole du Louvre in Paris.

In addition to Mr. and Mrs. Ryan, the Ryan Family includes Pat ’97 JD, MBA and Lydia; Rob ’00 JD, MBA and Jennifer; and Corbett.

This is one in a series of announcements being made this fall related to the Ryan Family’s $480 million gift to Northwestern, which was announced in September 2021.

For Journalists: view the news release for media contacts