AAFP Names Top Physician, Humanitarian and Education Advocates

Four family physicians honored for outstanding contributions to Family Medicine

Friday, Sept. 23, 2016

Stephanie A. Wilken
Public Relations Strategist
American Academy of Family Physicians
(800) 274-2237, Ext. 6053
(913) 302-4769 (Sept. 21–24)

ORLANDO -- The American Academy of Family Physicians announced the recipients of its most prestigious awards this week at its annual meeting. Four family physicians from across the nation were recognized for their outstanding contributions to family medicine and the health of the public.

Each of these awards recognizes family physicians who have made exceptional advances in furthering the health of their communities through service and education.

Karen L. Smith, MD, FAAFP, of Raeford, North Carolina, was named the national 2017 Family Physician of the Year. The award honors one outstanding family physician who provides patients with compassionate, comprehensive care, and serves as a role model in his or her community, to other health professionals, and to residents and medical students.

Smith has served the citizens of rural Hoke County, North Carolina, for more than two decades. She provides the full spectrum of family medicine, from obstetrics to care for the elderly. “The Power of Touch: Spiritual, Physical and Emotional” are words she lives by, both in her clinical work and personal life. Despite running a bustling independent family medicine practice, Smith’s care extends beyond the exam room to her family and community.

Raeford is located in an impoverished rural area of the state where primary care physicians are in short supply. Smith invests heavily in her community, and in 2004, she built a state-of-the-art clinic to serve patients. This established her as one of Hoke County’s most important and progressive health care providers.

More than a decade ago, Smith’s practice was one of the first rural, independent family medicine practices to simultaneously invest in technology such as interactive patient portals and kiosk-based check-ins. Smith has since earned a national reputation as a leading proponent, early adopter and expert in health information technology, such as electronic health records. She also is an aggressive promoter of computer literacy among her patient population.

David Gaus, MD, a family physician in Madison, Wisconsin, was awarded the AAFP’s Humanitarian Award. The Humanitarian Award honors extraordinary and enduring humanitarian efforts by AAFP members, both within and beyond the borders of the United States.

Gaus is founder and executive director of Andean Health & Development in Ecuador, based at the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The mission of AHD is to provide quality, sustainable health care for rural Latin America. The hospital provides high quality secondary care to an extended community of 80,000 and also serves as a training ground for physicians, nurses and other leaders in the local community.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in accounting at the University of Notre Dame, Dr. Gaus traveled to Ecuador where he spent two years volunteering at an orphanage. The experience was life changing and led him to medical school, followed by residency at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He returned to Ecuador and soon discovered that rural hospital care was the country’s greatest need.

Working with Father Theodore Hesburgh, former president of Notre Dame, Dr. Gaus founded AHD in 1997. Their pilot project was a hospital in the underserved community of Pedro Vicente Maldonado. It opened in 2000 and by 2007 was financially self-sustaining.

Nick Turkal, MD, a family physician in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, received the Robert Graham Physician Executive Award. This award is reserved for AAFP members whose executive skills in health care organizations have contributed to excellence in the provision of high quality health care, and demonstrated that family physicians can have an impact on improving the overall health of the nation.

Turkal currently serves as chief executive officer of Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He leads the strategic vision and daily operations for Wisconsin’s largest integrated health care provider and largest private employer. He oversees clinical quality work that is recognized nationally. Aurora is the top performing health system in the Hospital Quality Incentive Demonstration Project, a CMS partnership with Premier, Inc., a nationwide organization of not-for-profit hospitals. It provides financial rewards to hospital that demonstrate high quality performance in acute care.

During his decade of service as CEO, Aurora has grown from a $1.5 billion to a $5 billion enterprise. He has set the gold standard for cutting wasteful spending and reinvesting in programs that increase quality and access.

John Beasley, MD, a family physician in Madison, Wisconsin, received the Thomas W. Johnson Award. The award recognizes people who have made outstanding contributions to family medicine education in undergraduate, graduate and continuing education spheres.

Beasley currently serves as clinical professor at the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has contributed more than 40 years of service toward the advancement of family medicine education on local, regional, national and international stages.

His clinical interests include EEG reading (electrical activity in the brain) and aviation medicine. He was one of the co-developers of the Advanced Life Support in Obstetrics (ALSO) course. He founded the Wisconsin Research Network and was the founding chair of the International Federation of Primary Care Research Networks.

Editor’s Note: To arrange an interview with any of the family physicians, please contact Stephanie A. Wilken at (800) 274-2237, ext. 5221 or swilken@aafp.org.

Founded in 1947, the AAFP represents 136,700 physicians and medical students nationwide. It is the largest medical society devoted solely to primary care. Family physicians conduct approximately one in five office visits -- that’s 192 million visits annually or 48 percent more than the next most visited medical specialty. Today, family physicians provide more care for America’s underserved and rural populations than any other medical specialty. Family medicine’s cornerstone is an ongoing, personal patient-physician relationship focused on integrated care.  To learn more about the specialty of family medicine, the AAFP's positions on issues and clinical care, and for downloadable multi-media highlighting family medicine, visit www.aafp.org/media. For information about health care, health conditions and wellness, please visit the AAFP’s award-winning consumer website, www.familydoctor.org(familydoctor.org).