PENNY TIPPY, MD
Written by Dean and Provost Jerry Kruse, MD, MSPH
I first met Penny Tippy in Springfield in 1984. I had just joined the faculty of the SIU Department of Family & Community Medicine at its site in Quincy. Dr. Tippy had joined the Department two years earlier, in 1982, as a faculty member in Carbondale, and had just been promoted to the position of family medicine residency program director.
I recall Penny’s great enthusiasm, her cheerful smile and her most perfect laugh. She had a precise understanding of the importance of the type of care delivered by family physicians—comprehensive, longitudinal, coordinated care, accessible. She was totally invested in the mission of meeting the health care needs of the people and communities of southern Illinois by training physicians who would stay and practice in the region. She had a vigor that wouldn’t stop.
Penny said something that day that I still remember. She said, “You won’t see me often in Springfield. I’m going to spend my time in Carbondale. That’s where I can do the most good.”
With time, I learned that Penny meant that she could have the greatest impact by being a residency program director for a long duration in the same place. And a long duration it was – Penny was the program director for SIU Carbondale for 28 years.
Penny knew, as program director, that she would have an impact on her own patients; on the careers and lives of her resident physicians; on the communities of Carbondale, West Frankfort and the surrounding area; on the state of Illinois; and on the nation. I’ll start at the national level.
The Association of Family Medicine Residency Directors (AFMRD) was special to Penny. She was on the founding Board of Directors of AFMRD in 1990 as secretary-treasurer. Her personal mission at AFMRD was to help develop many family medicine residency programs of excellence – to work with colleagues to provide support and advice on a national level.
Penny became the sixth president of the AFMRD in 1995. She was instrumental in the founding of NIPPD – the National Institute for Program Director Development, a program that has provided a fellowship to train the next generation of program directors. More than 900 family physicians have completed the fellowship in the past 20 years. NIPPD was Penny’s national pride and joy. She also held key positions with the AFMRD Residency Program Solutions program and the Family Medicine Review Committee for the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. For both positions, her mission again was to support and help, and to move the now more than 600 family medicine residency programs to positions of excellence.
Penny Tippy was a force of nature at the national level for family medicine residency programs. Fittingly, she was named the Outstanding Program Director in the nation by AFMRD in 2003.
Penny’s influence at the state and institutional level was no less. I’ll give you one example of many.
In 2006, Penny had arranged a total of about $500,000 in grant funding from the Illinois Healthcare Children’s Foundation and from the Office of the Lt. Governor for a new mobile medical office, the Care-A-Van, to provide medical services to the high school students in Benton and West Frankfort.
A news conference was held in the waiting room of the West Frankfort clinic, and was attended by a number of dignitaries, including Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn himself. I was in the audience that day, and had the privilege to be seated next to Penny’s father, Goebel Patton, who was brimming with joy. He said to me, “You know, Jerry, the Patton family motto is this: ‘Service is the rent we pay for the space we occupy here on earth.’ My daughter really gets that.”
The program began, and Lt. Gov. Quinn took the podium. During his address, he said this: “Penny Tippy is Illinois’ North Star shining brightly in the South!” Goebel and I looked at each other, and a tear came to Goebel’s eye. Then Penny took the podium. Among other things, she said, “Service is the rent we pay for the space we occupy here on earth.” More tears flowed. A program was born that would break down long-standing barriers to access and communication with adolescents who needed care the most.
In one of her presentations to the Residency Program Solutions group, Penny stated that a residency program director wore too many hats – those of “physician, administrator, teacher, politician, mentor, colleague, friend and disciplinarian.” All true indeed, and Penny loved every one of these roles.
As program director, she cared for a large number of her own patients as their personal physician. They loved her, and she loved them. She was a great clinician, because she knew her patients in the context of their family and their community.
She was directly responsible for the training, competence and excellence of the family medicine resident physicians – three years of training for each, six per year, for 28 years – more than 160 residency graduates altogether.
This is the role Penny loved the most. She was the residents’ mentor, role-model, leader, teacher, critic and consoler. A very high percentage of these graduates have stayed in the Carbondale region, the highest percentage staying in the local area of any of the SIU programs. They are the heart and soul of health care in southern Illinois.
As program director, Penny was also a great politician, exerting influence that many elected officials would envy. This work involved procurement of funding and the development of policies for new programs, to be ahead of the game. Penny always had a new and better idea.
An example is the SIU Physician Assistant Program. The PA program was established more than 20 years ago. Penny was a driving force for the development of that program. She had a vision for systems of interprofessional care – for teamwork – long before it became an accepted concept in medicine.
Penny left an indelible stamp, and her influence will live on.
How did she accomplish this? She did it with a smile on her face, and with infectious enthusiasm. She did it by recognizing talent, and building the members of her team. She did it through her personal values and expectations of others. Penny never flagged in zeal for her work. She took a real interest in every person and in the everyday part of their lives. She smiled, had fun, and laughed. This is what Penny instilled in others.
Today, we mourn the loss of Penny.
Today, we celebrate the life of Penny.
Penny Tippy – A champion for what is right in medicine and what is right in life. We will miss her.
This eulogy was written and delivered by Dr. Jerry Kruse at the memorial service for Dr. Tippy on December 29. It has been edited for length.