Kjersti Knox, MD, received a 2022 UW School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) Dean’s Teaching Award for her outstanding contributions in student education in medical programs. Dr. Knox, director of the UW SMPH Training in Urban Health and Public Medicine Program (TRIUMPH), also maintains a clinical practice at Aurora Family Care Center in Milwaukee. She is grateful for her experiences as a medical student at UW and resident at Aurora Health Care, a DFMCH academic partner program, crediting each with forming her path as a physician educator.

A Public Health Focus

Kjersti Knox, MD

Kjersti Knox, MD

As a new medical student, Knox was excited about the public health curriculum, outstanding mentorship available from the DFMCH, and the MEDiC program—a student-led organization that runs six free health clinics throughout the Madison area.

“I believe to take care of patients we must care for the community that creates and influences their health,” shared Knox. “We must partner with neighbors, outside of clinics and hospitals, to care for patients where they live, work, and play and train physicians to be community engaged, community driven, and responsive.”

That desire to engage the community made Knox the perfect candidate for the TRIUMPH program when it launched in 2008. The TRIUMPH program was designed to address health professional shortage areas in Wisconsin’s urban areas. TRIUMPH offers medical students a 2 1/2 year clinical, community and public health, and advocacy and leadership skills training curriculum in Milwaukee.

“I was extremely lucky that TRIUMPH was created while I was student,” shared Knox. “As soon as I learned of the program, I knew I needed to apply.”

Knox considers Cynthia Haq, MD, TRIUMPH cofounder and first director, an important mentor who taught and modeled an asset-based approach to community responsive care and engagement. Though Haq left the program for a role as chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of California, Irvine, Knox continues to use this lens to approach community health. Having a clear vision of the rich strengths in every community, in contrast to the standard needs or deficit approach, resonated with Knox as she learned from her inspiring patients and the many communities that together build Milwaukee.

Teaching As A Team

As she gradually transitioned to a leadership role with TRIUMPH following her residency, Knox worked with Drs. Anne Getzin, also a 2011 graduate of the TRIUMPH program, and Haq to create Community Health, Advocacy and Managing Populations (CHAMP) and the Lead for Health programs—both offer additional training for residents and often attract TRIUMPH alumni. While training future physicians in public health is a passion for Knox, it’s one that she views as a team effort. In addition to the TRIUMPH leadership team of Drs. Michelle Buelow and Theresa Umhoefer-Wittry, Program Manager Melissa Lemke and Medical Education Coordinator Justin Heitman, Knox considers the teaching award a shared honor with Advocate Aurora and FQHC caregivers and coordinators, and partners at UW SMPH.

“It strikes me that our students or community partners or any of my patients would best accept the award, as my experience is that they are truly the best teachers,” offered Knox. “Perhaps other teachers feel similarly that the teaching roles we share we sought to secretly be taught ourselves—taught always to be learning and always be accountable to the care we offer our patients and community.”

Published: July 2022