Health Equity

Marshfield Clinic CEO Susan Turney, MD on her career as a woman physician leader in health care [Podcast]


AMA Update covers a range of health care topics affecting the lives of physicians, residents, medical students and patients. From private practice and health system leaders to scientists and public health officials, hear from the experts in medicine on COVID-19, medical education, advocacy issues, burnout, vaccines and more.

AMA Update

Marshfield Clinic CEO Susan Turney, MD, on her career as a woman physician leader in health care

Sep 5, 2023

In today’s AMA Update, Marshfield Clinic Health System CEO Susan Turney, MD, looks back on her career in, offers advice for women in medicine and shares her hopes for the future of health care ahead of her retirement this month. AMA Chief Experience Officer Todd Unger hosts.


  • Susan Turney, MD, CEO, Marshfield Clinic Health System

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Unger: Hello and welcome to the AMA Update video in podcast. Today we're joined by Dr. Susan Turney, the CEO of Marshfield Clinic Health System in Marshfield, Wisconsin. She's here to talk about her career in medicine and what she hopes others to learn from it, as she prepares to retire this month. I'm Todd Unger, AMA’s chief experience officer in Chicago. Dr. Turney, thanks so much for joining us today.

Dr. Turney: You know what, it's an absolute pleasure to be with you. It's an honor, Todd. And I'm hopefully can provide some insight.

Unger: Dr. Turney, it's important to me too because you're one of the first health system leaders that I got to know when I started here a little over six years ago. So I'm excited for you and sad to see you retiring at the same time because you've had such a remarkable career in medicine. You've accomplished so much, both as a practicing physician and as an administrator. I'm curious looking back at your career, what has surprised you the most?

Dr. Turney: There have been a lot of surprises. But I think that the biggest thing is the fact of how much things have changed throughout my career. When I think about all of the techniques, all of the tools that we had when I started my career in medicine, when I was a full-time practicing physician, it's really amazing to see how far we've come.

The research, the technology, the body of knowledge that we have now has—when you think about treating disease, when you think about curing disease, when you think about really what's important to me, which is prioritizing patient comfort and experience. All of those have just changed so dramatically. Yet, in terms of the things that have stayed the same. And that is what I want on one want with the patient that I saw is that relationship, that trusting relationship that you can develop between the clinician and the patient. That's really at the heart of medicine, and that's what drives me every day.

Unger: And you had quite a big job. And probably one that you didn't expect at the end of your career, which is managing of course, your system through the pandemic. Given what you just talked about in terms of the things that have changed, anything particular stand out for you?

Dr. Turney: Yeah, there are a lot of things that stand out. I think when crisis occur, whether in this country or someplace in the world, people rally and do it as best. And humankind shines through. I think that we are extremely proud of what we did during the pandemic to serve not just our patients every day, but also serve the people in our community, who were also very challenged, whether they were within the health system or not.

So it's really that collective collaboration that organically occurred because people truly do care. They care about what happens and rose to the occasion.

Unger: We've had a lasting impact at Marshfield, but that's not all because throughout your career, you've been involved in organized medicine, including at the AMA. How do you think that medicine would look different today, if not for all of the advocacy of you and your colleagues over the years?

Dr. Turney: I really do believe in organized medicine and I strongly believe that is a pathway for us to really impact our patients and communities for positive change. I was the CEO of the Wisconsin Medical Society, so I had sort of the outside, inside experience of being an organized medicine. And being very involved in the AMA throughout my career, it's bodies like the AMA that are really so incredibly important for really collectivizing the positive change and the momentum that we really need to see in health care.

Health care is enormous, right? And it's an extremely complex industry, whether it's on the care delivery side or on the payment side. And we know that there isn't any change that can occur if we try to do it ourselves. We need groups of minded people. We have to have people that are willing to come together. We have to work for that common cause and doing it for the right reason.

So I think I've been very lucky to be involved with so many of these kinds of organizations throughout my career. Advocacy is a labor of love for me. And I would say if it isn't easy, we probably aren't making progress. It has to be hard won. Change is possible, and it's definitely worth it.

Unger: Well, Dr. Turney throughout your career, you've also been a trailblazer and inspiration to your peers. As a woman CEO of a major health system, which is still far too uncommon in health care. What's one piece of advice that you'd like to share with other women in medicine?

Dr. Turney: I think it's authenticity. Be yourself. None of us is really obligated to carry the mantle of all women as it relates to our career trajectory. But if you want to be a leader, go for it. If you want to practice medicine full-time and aren't interested in leadership, that's fine too. So I think the message here really is that we are in a place, where women can do and they can be whatever they want.

But they also don't need to feel that undue pressure to achieve just because we're women. I think there's no greater gift really in the world than to do what you want to do. And women, all people should feel free to really feel as free as they can to pursue what drives their passion and enriches their lives.

Unger: Well, that's a good piece of advice and I'm glad that we're able to share it this month during Women in Medicine Month. A theme of the AMA's Women in Medicine Month celebration this year is Moving Forward Together. So I wanted to ask you, what role did your relationships and mentoring play in your career? And how can women physicians, in particular find those people who are going to help them move forward?

Dr. Turney: Yeah, clearly, I would not be where I am today without mentors, sponsors, people who cared about promoting me. And that's important throughout my career. There have been many individuals that have really helped me along every step of this journey.

I would say that when I was a young physician, more experienced physicians would help me become a better clinician. And when I entered the leadership ranks, I always reached out to more experienced leaders for advice. And I think it really is a matter of putting yourself out there and asking for help, networking. People want to be helpful. And they generally want to see people succeed. That's really been my experience.

Unger: Is there anything you'd wish you'd discovered earlier, either through those men or relationships or throughout your career?

Dr. Turney: You know, what I might have told myself early in my career is that you need to take the long view. There are clearly going to be some really intense stressful periods of life, both personally and professionally. Those moments don't last forever. So it's really good sometimes to just take a step back.

When you've got your feet to the fire a bit and realize that a day from now, a month from now, a year from now, you won't even remember what it that was stressing you out so badly at that moment. I did gain that perspective over time, but I think it would have been helpful had I had that a little earlier in my career.

Unger: Very, very good advice. Well, you've certainly seen a lot of change throughout your career and much of your work has helped to shape medicine as it is today. So for my last question, I'd like to ask you about the future. What is your hope for the future of medicine?

Dr. Turney: Truly, my hope is that we continue to find ways to put patients and families at the center of our thinking. As an industry and as a care provider, I really think that's an imperative. We have to make sure that our patients have easy access to care. We have to make sure that what they experience is the best that's possible. And I know that there are ways that we can improve on that patient experience.

We also know that care has to be more affordable. And as our world has changed, as expectations have changed for our patients, and for our families and our communities, we need to deliver it how, when and where they want it. And there are certainly things that we have that can support that. We have technology and we have tools that can help us do that.

We also, however, have to change our systems and our institutions to really allow the value-based patient-centered care that is of utmost importance. So I think, again, lots of hope from my perspective, it's been a great profession. And I see really great things happening within our health system, but across the country in really delivering on our promises.

Unger: Dr. Turney, it's such a pleasure to talk with you and it's been an honor to get to know you over the past few years. I just want to say on behalf of everyone at the AMA, thank you so much for your partnership and your dedication to the profession. That's it for today's episode and we'll be back soon with another AMA Update. In the meantime, you can find all our videos and podcasts at Thanks for joining us today. Please take care.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed in this podcast are those of the participants and/or do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.