Google this: Corneisha Fowler is an exemplary employee

Some potential employers were put off by a Sun-Times column that told of her past struggles. But not Rush University Medical Center, where she’s made the most of her chance.

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Corneisha Fowler’s boss at Rush University Medical Center says she has a special knack for customer service.

Corneisha Fowler’s boss at Rush University Medical Center says she has a special knack for customer service.

Mark Brown / Sun-Times

Corneisha Fowler works in guest relations at Rush University Medical Center, and her boss knows he’s lucky to have her.

Fowler is a natural at dealing with patients and family members as they confront the stress that comes with walking through the front door of any hospital, even a world-class institution like Rush.

“Corneisha has this innate knack for customer service,” said Ricardo Kirgan, Rush’s guest relations manager. “She puts people at ease. She knows how to talk to people.”

Fowler, 23, is taking college courses in hopes of someday becoming a child-protective specialist for the state Department of Children and Family Services. As her education progresses, Kirgan isn’t sure how long he’ll be able to keep her. 

There’s just one thing that might hold her back.

Uh, about that.

It’s kind of my fault.

Two years ago, I wrote a column about SisterHouse, a West Side recovery home for women. 

Fowler was living there at the time and volunteered to share her story of recovering from alcoholism. She kept it real, providing details that made for a more compelling story.

It was brave of her and, as she came to appreciate later, possibly a mistake.

A year after the column appeared, Fowler sent an email asking me to remove the story from online or edit out her name because it had become an obstacle to her getting a job.

As is now common practice, prospective employers would Google her name, and the first thing they’d find was my story about her past troubles. Instead of taking a chance, they took a pass. One guy threw it in her face during an interview.

Though I was sympathetic, I checked with my boss to confirm what I already knew: There was no erasing the story.

The point of writing the column was to help SisterHouse weather a difficult financial stretch and continue its good works. In the same way the story was a potential roadblock to Fowler, it remained a potential benefit to SisterHouse.

I told Fowler I hoped an employer could see the strength she had shown in overcoming her difficult circumstances and regard her past as a positive — but that was easy for me to say. 

Lucky for both of us, Kirgan was such an employer. He didn’t know much about Fowler’s past difficulties when he hired her, only that she came through Cara, probably Chicago’s preeminent program for helping individuals with challenging backgrounds find employment and get their lives on track.

Rush recruiters had spotted Fowler as someone who deserved an opportunity. Kirgan agreed. That was more than a year ago.

Much later, when Fowler mentioned to him her frustration with the column that threatened to follow her into perpetuity, Kirgan proposed a solution.

Would I be willing, he asked, to write another column, updating her accomplishments?

“As her manager at Rush, I can tell you that Corneisha has not been a good employee. She’s been an exemplary one,” Kirgan wrote.

Stick that in your search results. Please.

At the hospital, Fowler told me she moved out of the recovery home last year to her own apartment, which was her main goal when we first met. She has learned to drive and got her own car. She’s taking classes at nearby Malcolm X College, hoping to pursue a degree in psychology. And she has been sober for two years.

“The way I’ve got to this point is staying true to myself and sticking to the plan that I want,” Fowler said. “I want a better quality of life for myself.”

Corneisha Fowler’s duties can take her from the hospital’s information desks to its intensive-care waiting rooms.

Corneisha Fowler’s duties can take her from the hospital’s information desks to its intensive-care waiting rooms.

Mark Brown / Sun-Times

As a “floater” at Rush, Fowler’s job can take her from any of the hospital’s information desks to the waiting areas of its intensive-care units.

“I get to help people daily,” she said.

Kirgan shared a portion of a letter he received from the wife of an extended-stay patient offering praise for Fowler. “She’s smart, kind, represents the best of Rush,” he read aloud.

“I don’t get letters like this every day,” Kirgan said. “She makes an impression. She’s a special kid. I couldn’t be happier, and the rest of her co-workers love her, too.”

The next time someone Googles Corneisha Fowler, I’m counting on this story popping up first.

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