Three health care professionals named 2021 Champions of Humanistic Care

Two individuals from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and one from the School of Nursing have been named 2021 Champions of Humanistic Care by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation. They have been selected for their compassion and courage during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The recipients are Jonathan T. Ketzler, MD, associate professor of anesthesiology; Nathan Wheeler, MD, internal medicine resident; and Susan Zahner, DrPH, RN, associate dean for faculty affairs at the School of Nursing and Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor. They are among more than 200 health professionals selected from institutions that are members of the Arnold P. Gold Foundation. The honorees were nominated by Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Elizabeth Petty, MD, based on input from colleagues of Ketzler, Wheeler, and Zahner.

The Champions of Humanistic Care will be recognized at the Gold Foundation’s virtual gala on June 10, 2021, alongside three esteemed National Humanism in Medicine Medal recipients, one of which is Anthony Fauci, MD, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Chief Medical Advisor to President Biden.

Jonathan T. Ketzler, MD 

Ketzler is a physician skilled in anesthesiology and critical care. His colleagues say he consistently goes above and beyond to aid patients in the Trauma and Life Support Center, particularly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At the start of the pandemic, when many were understandably worried, Dr. Ketzler stepped up to work on our ICU team through the worst health crisis of our lifetime,” says Nizar Jarjour, MD, chief of the Division of Allergy, Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine in the Department of Medicine. “Even after he had a serious injury to his cervical spine, he still came back to work wearing a cervical collar to help our critically ill patients during the pandemic.”

Ketzler prioritizes delivering compassionate service to others and collaborates with interprofessional colleagues to create effective teams that deliver high-quality care. One of these colleagues is Kelsey Vanderesteen, a senior nurse in the Trauma and Life Support Center.

“Throughout the past year, he’s been an outspoken advocate for our patients, our staff, and our community, using his voice in media and social media to encourage mask wearing, social distancing, and trust in the vaccine,” she says. “He’s a passionate public health advocate, beloved by ICU staff, an eloquent teacher, and a compassionate man committed to helping anyone any way he can.”

Nathan Wheeler, MD

Wheeler, a third-year resident, is being honored as a health care team member who continually steps up in the fight against COVID-19. When the pandemic came to Wisconsin, he volunteered many hours on the trauma and life support and COVID-19 hospital wards.

“Although the pandemic was a very trying time, I was inspired by the dedication to patient care from my fellow internal medicine colleagues in my program and around the country,” he says. “COVID patients felt a unique isolation and fear of the unknown, and I felt privileged to be in the position to treat and care for them over the past year.”

In the summer of 2020, Wheeler continued to volunteer in the flex-surge model that leaned heavily on resident volunteers. He gave countless hours to both the Trauma and Life Support and COVID-19 teams in what some called a “revolving door of hope and expertise.”

Susan Zahner, DrPH, RN

Zahner was nominated as a nursing professional champion of humanistic care for her unwavering commitment to strengthen the state’s public health infrastructure and for her leadership of the Badger Nurses Collaborating on COVID-19 Vaccination and Education Delivery program, which received funding from the Wisconsin Partnership Program.

The statewide initiative harnesses the strength of nurses and nursing schools throughout Wisconsin to engage students, faculty, and alumni and provide vaccinations and education to respond to the pandemic.

Her nominators say her endearing leadership and commitment to nursing and workforce development have greatly aided in the state’s ability to respond to this public health emergency.

“Student nurses have been part of health care teams caring for people on the front lines,” Zahner says. “Now, with COVID-19 vaccination a reality, UW–Madison student nurses and faculty, along with colleagues at UW System schools of nursing across Wisconsin, are stepping up again to be part of the solution to immunize the public. I am pleased to be leading this effort and so proud of our students’ and faculty’s work to bring an end to the pandemic.”