Leadership development is an area of focus for the academy. The Leadership Spotlight is designed to highlight our members who model exceptional leadership in family medicine. These members are leaders in their communities, their workplace, and the WAFP. It is our hope that sharing these stories will inspire you to be a more engaged and active family medicine leader.
WAFP Member: since 1991
Current Position: Professor, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health
WAFP Member: since 1988
Current Position: Director of Medical Education for Mayo Clinic Health System in southwest Wisconsin
Program Director Emeritus of the La Crosse-Mayo Family Medicine Residency
Associate Director of Mayo Clinic’s Program in Professionalism and Values.
WAFP Member: since 1991
Current Position: VP for Medical Specialties with Aurora
WAFP Member: since 2012
Current Position: Assistant Professor, Medical College of Wisconsin
WAFP Member: since 1995
Current Position: Program Director, Waukesha Family Medicine Residency Program
1. What is the best piece of leadership advice you’ve ever received?
Make sure you spend the time to really listen. My favorite quote is by Cheryl Richardson- “People start to heal the moment they feel heard”. I understand that I will never understand exactly what people are experiencing so listening first will allow me to help them find and fulfill their purpose in life.
2. If you could go back in time, what is one piece of leadership advice you would give your future self?
Don’t be afraid to take chances. You never know what the future brings so be open to new possibilities- even if you don’t always feel prepared.
3. What is one leadership experience, situation, or scenario that you’ve experienced that you wish everyone in family medicine (students, residents, physicians) could experience?
I have been blessed to have completed a course developed by Wisconsin Medical Society and Katherine Sanders, PhD, called “Leading Healthy Work Systems”. This course provided me with the knowledge on the industrial engineering concepts of designing health into our work system, understanding what truly motivates people (interestingly not money!) and how work can meet your psychological and spiritual needs. This has changed to course of my career and I think this should be part of every leader’s training- especially physician leaders.
4. Who are your mentors and what did you learn from them to become the physician/leader that you are today?
I have so many but a few come to mind quickly. Katherine Sanders, PhD has taught me so much about leadership in a way so outside of the medicine world but in a way that is so pertinent to the challenges we currently are facing with burnout and disengagement. Barbara Knutzen- our current VP of Performance Excellence- is an amazing leader and I have been so blessed to spend more time with her. Her insight and wisdom are something I will always treasure. My father will always be my go-to for advice. I don’t think I have made a single major decision in my life without first discussing it through with my father. He is very wise and offers me a perspective often different from my own which I find invaluable.
5. Why did you choose family medicine and what’s your favorite aspect of it?
I really enjoy problem solving and I believe family medicine allows you to sit back and see the whole picture. When you know a whole family- or at least try to- it helps you to understand why people make the decisions they make which brings them to the place they are. From a trauma-informed approach, we call it the “invisible suitcase”. We all view life from our own perspective based on our own previous experiences. Keeping that in mind shifts the way you view a situation and has really improved the way I practice medicine.
6. What does leadership mean to you?
The ability to help people realize their own potential to fulfill their purpose in life. Sometimes we just need someone to help us get out of our own way.
7. What is the most memorable experience you have had when dealing with a patient?
There are so many but most recently I lost a patient to a very elusive and very aggressive cancer. Life is so short and watching her embrace her last few months reminded me to make sure I don’t take a single day for granted.
8. What qualities make a great leader in family medicine? How have you taken these qualities into your practice and community outreach?
I believe in collaboration and family medicine offers such a nice partnership with community stakeholders. Because of our training in all areas of medicine, we have a unique perspective to address community needs. Whether it be school aged children or senior citizens, we understand how the social determinants of health control health outcomes much more than what we can do in the office. My role allows me the protected time to build relationships with community members to intervene in effective ways to have greater impact. Education on nutrition and health in the schools, implementation of the “Walk with a Doc” program at our local shopping mall, serving on the Healthy FDL County 2020 Steering Committee to address the identified community needs from our local Community Health Assessment, and collaborating with multiple community stakeholders to improve access to fresh fruits and vegetables by developing a food forest are a few of the current initiatives in Fond du Lac County with which I am involved.
9. Who or what inspired you to pursue family medicine?
I was raised by a family of nurses so I knew I was going to go into medicine from a very young age. Family Medicine offered such a variety and I really enjoyed the idea of caring for an entire family- at all stages of life.
10. What piece of advice would you give to your younger self? To a medical student interested in, or a new family medicine resident?
Family Medicine offers a world of possibilities. Don’t forget to think a little outside of the box and you will be able to have a huge impact on your patients’ lives. Also, crying IS ok in medicine and spending the time to form those relationships will enrich your life in ways beyond imagine.