A Tribute to Kevin O’Connell

Dr. O’Connell at the Wausau Clinic in 1984.

Dr. O’Connell at the Wausau Clinic in 1984.

The Department of Family Medicine and Community Health (DFMCH) celebrates Kevin O’Connell, MD, who completed his final year as Wausau residency program director in June 2016.

Dr. O’Connell remains on the Wausau faculty, and in September became the director of medical education at Aspirus, a role in which he will be responsible for the overall coordination and maintenance of all medical education programs at Aspirus.

Leading the ‘Family Farm’

Dr. O’Connell came to Wausau in 1979 as a resident in the program’s second class. Colleagues remember him arriving with all of his possessions on a motorcycle, ready to start a career he’d aspired to since he was 14 years old.

After completing residency in 1982, he asked program founder Tom Peterson, MD, for a one-year job. “Thirty-seven years later, I’m still here,” he laughs, acknowledging that he couldn’t imagine being anything other than an academic family doctor.

Dr. O’Connell was instrumental in developing the program’s curriculum, and residents have always appreciated his enthusiasm and approachable teaching style. In 1993, he became director of the residency program, leading it as if it were “my family farm.”

Dr. O’Connell (on right) with Wausau program director Robert Cadwell, MD, in 1986.

Dr. O’Connell (on right) with Wausau program director Robert Cadwell, MD, in 1986.

His belief in “service for all” has made him a champion of health care for marginalized and underserved populations throughout north-central Wisconsin.

Respected for his deep commitment to the residency program and its role in the community, he has held many long-standing leadership positions at Aspirus Wausau Hospital and other community organizations, such as Benedictine nursing home. He’s also a supporter of the local United Way chapter, the Wausau Performing Arts Foundation and the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum.

In 2015, Aspirus named him Physician of the Year, and in August 2016, a patient and a colleague each nominated him for Aspirus Hero awards.

From left: Diane O’Connell, Wausau program founder Tom Peterson, MD, Lucy Peterson and Dr. O’Connell at the 2014 Wausau residency program’s graduation ceremony, during which Dr. Peterson received the Legend in Teaching Award.

From left: Diane O’Connell, Wausau program founder Tom Peterson, MD, Lucy Peterson and Dr. O’Connell at the 2014 Wausau residency program’s graduation ceremony, during which Dr. Peterson received the Legend in Teaching Award.

Dr. O’Connell (second from left) after receiving an Aspirus Hero award in 2016, with Aspirus Pharmacy Director Jill Michaud, PharmD; Aspirus Wausau Hospital President Darrell Lentz; and Chief Medical Officer for Aspirus Wausau Hospital William Wessels, MD.

Dr. O’Connell (second from left) after receiving an Aspirus Hero award in 2016, with Aspirus Pharmacy Director Jill Michaud, PharmD; Aspirus Wausau Hospital President Darrell Lentz; and Chief Medical Officer for Aspirus Wausau Hospital William Wessels, MD.

What Colleagues Say

Modest by nature, Dr. O’Connell is reluctant to talk about himself—but former and current colleagues have great things to say about him.

“Kevin O’Connell’s impact goes well beyond his role as program director—he is a respected, integral part of our community. He has never said no to anything Aspirus has asked of him.”

—Charles Shabino, MD, former Wausau residency program faculty and Aspirus chief medical officer, and current Wisconsin Hospital Association chief medical officer

“Kevin has been a tremendous asset to his peers, aspiring physicians and our organization. Above all, though, his efforts have directly improved lives throughout this community. The wide range of roles he has served since arriving in Wausau is impressive, and he has been the driving force behind important changes that have really helped shape health care in our area. He’s an amazing guy.”

—Darrell Lentz, Aspirus Wausau Hospital president

“Kevin O’Connell is a born teacher: natural, casual, a good listener with a comfortable style. He was steadfast in his dedication to the residency program. There were pulls in many directions, but he kept his eyes on the prize: the building of the Wausau program to be the strongest it could be. He never lost his ambition to make it the best.”

—Carrol Christman, former residency and faculty development coordinator in Wausau and Madison

“Dr. O’Connell is quite possibly the most understanding person I have ever met. His diverse patient population is a testament to his understanding, as well as a huge asset to the residency program that may otherwise not be so diverse given the location in central Wisconsin. His ideas and dedication to family medicine, patients and families, education, and central Wisconsin are the main reason the residency program has existed and been so successful for so many years. He will be dearly missed as program director. I am glad to say he will be my friend forever.”

—Kyle Dembowiak, MD, Wausau residency alumnus

“I saw Dr. O’Connell as a visionary, someone who could see what path we needed to take to continue to keep the program strong both within the changing medical education environment and within the city of Wausau. He worked tirelessly to keep the residency alive and thriving, selflessly giving all of himself to get it through the tough times and rejoicing as it was producing great family doctors for Wausau and the communities of Wisconsin.”

—Cyndi Moser, retired Wausau residency clinic manager

“Patient-centered, data-driven care was important to Dr. O’Connell long before it became the favored buzzwords. Over the years, he has served in numerous leadership roles, medical directorships, program directors, committees, and task forces. He has willingly promoted and moved forward unpopular programs because the program was the right thing to do for the patient.”

—Jill Michaud, PharmD, Aspirus Pharmacy Director, who nominated Dr. O’Connell for a Hero award

Published: September 2016

2016-11-16T07:58:03+00:00