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Susan L. Turney, MD, MS, FACMPE, FACP
CEO, Marshfield Clinic Health System, Marshfield, WI
Marshfield Clinic/St. Joseph's Hospital, Marshfield, WI
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health,
As a young girl growing up in a small town in northern
Wisconsin, Dr. Susan Turney recalls telling her grade school
teacher on a day they were discussing career choices that she was
going to grow up to be a doctor, to which her teacher replied,
"Girls don't become doctors." Several years later she received a
similar message from her father when she was selecting math and
science courses for her high school curriculum and he suggested she
include typing and shorthand classes so she would "have something
to fall back on."
Laughing about it now, Dr. Turney says that her teacher and dad,
"for all the wrong reasons, were actually great motivators." Dr.
Turney is a woman who laughs easily and finds little to complain
about. "It was a generational thing," she says. "My dad was a
strong supporter and truly believed in me. He just wanted to make
sure I was protected."
Growing up in an era where career choices for women meant
teaching or nursing, Dr. Turney was determined to become a doctor.
After earning her medical degree from the University of Wisconsin
School of Medicine, she enjoyed a long career practicing and
teaching internal medicine before setting her sights on a new goal
that would dispel yet another myth, "girls don't become CEOs."
Making the list
Effective September 1, 2014, Dr. Turney became the first CEO of
the Marshfield Clinic Health System in Marshfield, WI, one of the
largest comprehensive medical systems in the United States. As CEO
she oversees a system that provides patient care in more than 50
locations in northern, central and western Wisconsin, and includes
two hospitals, a graduate medical education program, and a research
foundation. Prior to Marshfield, Dr. Turney served three years as
President and CEO of the Medical Group Management Association
(MGMA) and seven years as CEO and Executive Vice President of the
Wisconsin Medical Society.
In addition to her executive leadership experience, Dr. Turney's
career includes more than 20 years as a practicing physician and
several years as Program Director of the Transitional Residency
Program and Medical Director of Patient Financial services at
Marshfield Clinic (now Marshfield Clinic Health System). In recent
years she has fulfilled appointments by the Governor of Wisconsin
and the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary, served on the
board of eHealth Initiative, and was named to Modern Healthcare's
list of 50 Most Influential Physician Executives in 2012, 2013, and
Caring for others
The oldest of eight children, Dr. Turney's leadership skills and
interest in medicine were honed at an early age. "When you're the
oldest of eight, parents start counting on you quite early to help
care for the younger children," she admits. As a young caregiver,
her role models were local physicians.
"I had such respect for the people taking care of us," says Dr.
Turney. "I grew up at a time and in a community where physicians
practiced in small solo practices. They did home visits, were
highly respected and were integral to the community." "Plus," she
laughs, "they did things like fix broken bones and that seemed fun
Having fun is important to Dr. Turney, and despite her busy
schedule, she makes time for her interests. She is an avid reader
and often has two books going at the same time, she sings in her
church choir, and loves spending time with family and friends. For
30 years, she enjoyed running (and achieved her goal of running a
marathon!); but, after onset of arthritis in the hip forced her to
slow down she replaced running with walking. And when she wants to
really slow down, she and her husband retreat to their cabin in the
woods in northern Wisconsin where the sky is so clear they can spot
meteor showers and see the Milky Way.
Dr. Turney married high school sweetheart, Peter Turney, a
teacher-turned-restaurateur. She had her first child while doing
her residency at Marshfield Clinic and her second child during her
first year of clinical practice. She admits that raising two young
children early in her career was not easy, but says it helped that
she and her fellow practitioners worked as a team and often covered
for each other.
"I don't think one ever achieves a perfect work/life balance,"
says Dr. Turney. "As a physician, I knew my schedule was going to
be unpredictable and I wouldn't make it to every school event, so I
learned early on to only make promises to my children that I knew I
could deliver on." The demands of her career apparently did not
diminish her children's desire to pursue professional careers of
their own. Her daughter, who is married with an 18-month-old
daughter, is currently completing her residency in psychiatry in
Chicago and her son is a lawyer who practices in Phoenix, AZ.
The larger view
Dr. Turney chose internal medicine because of the
physician-patient relationship and comprehensive care practiced by
internists. "I loved all of my medical rotations," she says, "but I
had great role models in internal medicine, and I wanted to be
face-to-face with patients and actively involved in all aspects of
their care—preventive, acute, and chronic."
Later, moving from clinical practice to the business side of
care delivery was a natural transition for Dr. Turney as she
experienced first-hand some of the stressors the healthcare system
imposed on physicians and their patients. "I've always had a
passion for taking care of patients and knew that would not
diminish no matter what I chose to do with my career," she says,
"but as payment models began changing, I saw a huge disconnect
between clinical care and the business of medicine and I wanted to
be involved in closing the gap to help patients get better outcomes
and help the system run better."
As CEO of Marshfield Health System, Dr. Turney will be
responsible for a broad spectrum of care for multiple communities
with diverse needs. It will be her job to make sure patients and
physicians have what they need, including safe facilities, state of
the art equipment, and the right staff. "Those who manage the
business of care delivery directly impact what happens to
patients," says Dr. Turney, "and it is essential for physician
leaders and administrators to have a relationship built on trust,
to share a similar vision, and work "hand-in-glove" to serve the
needs of each community."
Leaps and rounds
Dr. Turney is enthusiastic about the future of healthcare.
"Medical students today are wonderfully bright, energetic people,"
she says. "They have a lot of faith in the system and bring a
wonderful energy to patient care." She advises students to "embrace
this wonderful profession, remain optimistic and get involved in
the community." "Set up a health screening clinic, a children's
running clinic, or get involved with a food bank," she suggests,
"the pleasure of practicing medicine increases exponentially."
Dr. Turney served two years as transitional Governor of ACP's
Wisconsin Chapter, is the recipient of the 2000 ACP Evergreen
Award, and encourages medical students and physicians to get aboard
the A train. "ACP offers great resources and makes it easier for
physicians to be successful, and the life-long friendships I have
are a wonderful side benefit."
On paper, it is easy to see the training, achievements, and
experience that have made Dr. Turney successful. Less visible, but
equally significant, is how she cultivates relationships, embraces
change, and moves forward with optimism and self-confidence. "I've
been very lucky to have a wonderful career path," says Dr.Turney,
"but sometimes you have to be willing to take a personal risk to
achieve your goals. If you are passionate about something and the
opportunity to do something challenging presents itself, 'you take
From a little girl's dream of medical rounds, to a CEO's vision
of creating "a continuum of care from cradle to grave," Dr. Turney
made the leap from clinical care to executive leadership, but her
mission and focus never wavered. "I'm still serving patients," she
says, "I'm just doing it in a different way."
November 2014 Issue of IMpact
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