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Alumni Spotlight: Penny Wheeler‚ M.D.

It was 1988 and Penny Wheeler‚ M.D.‚ was tired. As a senior resident in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Minnesota‚ she had just completed a grueling rotation. A few days later‚ the chair of the department at the time‚ Leo Twiggs‚ M.D.‚ asked her to take a walk with him. Wheeler couldn’t imagine why he would be upset with her.

She needn’t have worried.

Penny Wheeler, M.D.

“As we strolled around the health sciences buildings‚ he told me that I needed to be a leader‚ and his words have stuck with me ever since‚” recalls Wheeler.

“I remember thinking that if I have this opportunity to be called to a leadership position and do good things for people‚ I have an obligation to stretch myself and try.”

Over the years‚ Wheeler has taken Twiggs’ advice. While working as a full-time clinician at Women’s Health Consultants‚ an independent practice affiliated with Abbott Northwestern Hospital‚ she was chair of the hospital’s obstetrics and gynecology department. She then became medical staff president for Abbott and later chaired the quality committee while serving on the Allina Hospital and Clinics’s board of directors.

In July 2006‚ Wheeler made her most momentous leap yet: She became Allina’s chief clinical officer (CCO). As CCO‚Wheeler is responsible for leading Allina’s clinical quality and improvement agenda by collaborating with medical staff‚ the board’s Physician Practice Council‚ and medical directors. She will also be responsible for ensuring best-of-practice approaches and ongoing innovation and excellence in care to help develop and retain effective clinicians.

“It was a huge stretch for me to move from being a full-time practicing clinician to being immersed in the business world; it’s as if I have landed on a different planet sometimes‚” Wheeler says. “But the aim is the same. When I was in the clinic‚ I was trying to give the best possible care to every patient I saw. Now I’m trying to make it easier for providers to give the best care to every patient they see.”

Wheeler calls herself a “triple Gopher‚” having completed her undergraduate degree‚ medical degree‚ and residency at the University in the 1980s. She remains an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Medical School.

“I feel a great loyalty to the U community‚” she says. “I received a tremendous education and had many opportunities here‚ and I will always be grateful for that.”

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