It doesn’t get much more “Wisconsin” than a third-generation physician who was inspired to pursue medicine during time at the family cottage “Up North” and has racked up more than 100,000 miles on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. But Appleton, Wisconsin, native Mark Fenlon, MD ’84 (PG ’87), MBA, the new president of the Wisconsin Medical Alumni Association, wouldn’t have it any other way.
His father, a physician who started the University of Wisconsin Family Medicine Residency Program in Appleton, invited new residents to the Minocqua cottage for team-building experiences. Interactions with his father and the residents confirmed his interest in medicine.
Fenlon earned his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry at UW-Madison and his medical degree at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.
“I knew I wanted to stay in Wisconsin, so I completed my residency at the UW Family Medicine Residency Program in Wausau,” Fenlon says. “After residency, I called two of the physicians I had met at the cottage who had a small practice in Plover, Wisconsin. You could say I recruited myself, becoming the third physician in a three-doctor practice.”
To him, family medicine was intriguing because it offers many ways to help patients. While not as dramatic as working in the emergency room, he says, it’s a great way to improve community health. Fenlon’s background also led to a passion for rural health and preventive care.
“It’s hard to recruit physicians to practice in rural areas, and that’s why the school’s Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine (WARM) is so important,” he says. “Family medicine is critical in rural communities, especially because preventive care plays such a large role. I look forward to working to advance that great program and others during my time as the WMAA president.”
In 1997, St. Michael’s Hospital acquired Plover Family Practice, which went through further consolidation. Thus, Fenlon began working for Ministry Medical Group, now Ascension. In 2008, Sister Lois Bush, a leader within Ministry Health Care, suggested that he apply for the regional vice president role for central Wisconsin. This led to leadership roles in the largest Catholic not-for-profit health system in the United States, explains Fenlon, who served in that regional position from 2008 to 2016. During that time, he completed a physician executive MBA degree from the University of Tennessee, and in 2016, he became the president of Ministry Medical Group in central and northern Wisconsin and Affinity Medical Group in the Fox Valley.
“Part of my role was facilitating mergers as we formed a statewide medical group,” he explains. “Getting my MBA was one of the best academic experiences of my life. I believe having more physicians with business training is beneficial in decision‑making.”
Now retired, Fenlon is happy to bring his business training to the medical alumni association. He already has helped the organization strategize to make “SMART” goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time‑limited.
Fenlon reflects on his time working in Plover, when a member of his community volleyball team asked him several times to buy a raffle ticket to support the Epilepsy Foundation. Due to his busy schedule, the woman bought a few raffle tickets on his behalf and delivered them to his office. The next day, Fenlon got a call to say he’d won a Harley-Davidson motorcycle—something that launched decades of enjoyment.
While the pandemic has delayed Fenlon’s dream of crossing the country on his motorcycle to meet with alumni, the WMAA is planning a series of robust virtual events. He looks forward to an in-person board meeting, but says technology allows the group to conduct business for now.
“This school has such a great story to tell in many areas: patient care, education, service and research,” he says. “That’s in addition to the important work being done to combat health care disparities and inequities. The school has a remarkable reputation, and as alumni, we really own part of that, especially when we decide to give back.”
Today, Fenlon lives near Plover in a house that’s so energy efficient it’s nearly off the grid. All of Fenlon’s family—including his wife, Julia, daughter, Erin, and son, Luke—have degrees from UW-Madison. Since his retirement, he has expanded his woodworking hobby and is looking forward to keeping busy working with alumni association staff, alumni and medical students.
“When I talk to students or young doctors—such as my son, a fourth-generation physician—I tell them they are leaders by default because of the ‘MD’ after their name,” Fenlon shares. “You are taken as a leader and have opportunities to leverage that privilege and power. Someone will open a door, and it’s up to you to walk through it.”
He continues, “For me, Sister Lois Bush opened that door. She encouraged me to apply for the regional vice president position. I hadn’t thought of myself in that role before, but it led to a decade of challenges and fun helping countless people in a different way.”
By Kaine Korzekwa
This article appears in Quarterly magazine.