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Wanda Filer serving as president of the American Academy of Family Physicians
By Shirley Brosius, CONTRIBUTING WRITER



Dr. Wanda Filer attends to a younger patient. (Photo courtesy of the AAFP)

The qualities that elevated Dr. Wanda Filer of York to the role of president of the American Academy of Family Physicians began to develop right here in the Sentinel-area.

Filer, who lived in the region for many years, assumed leadership of the organization that represents 120,900 physicians and medical students nationwide.

Many remember ‘‘Dr. Wanda’’ from her 18 years as a health correspondent for WGAL-TV, an NBC affiliate in Lancaster. After serving three years as a director on the AAFP Board, the academy’s Congress of Delegates chose her as president-elect a year prior to her becoming president.

She is the daughter of Ray and Kay Price, who now live in Los Angeles, Calif.

According to Dr. Robert Wergin of Nebraska, board chair of AAFP, Filer’s experience in medicine, media and business suits her well for the president’s position.

“One of her true strengths is her communication style and her ability to communicate with anyone with clarity,” he said. “She’s very engaging and respectful. She really views problems as a challenge.”

‘That’s what I want to do.’’ Filer attended Upper Dauphin Area  schools from second through seventh grade, then her family moved to the Millersburg Area School District, where she graduated in 1977.

Her mother, at that time an executive with Tressler Lutheran Services, helped design the original Susquehanna Lutheran Village facility and at one time served as its administrator.

Filer remembers her parents working with Ray and Jean Deppen and other area couples to create the Gratz Ambulance Association. She and Deppen’s daughter, Mary, canvassed campers at the Gratz Fairground on Labor Day weekends for the Jerry Lewis Telethon.

“I think some of that sense of service and that sense of volunteerism began then,” Filer said.

As a Millersburg high school senior, Filer served as class president, yearbook editor and president of the Careers in Health Club. Through a school program,  she spent 12 weeks shadowing medical personnel at the Evelyn G. Frederick Health Center. Through medical services to her family, she came to appreciate the work of local physicians Richard Stark and Henry Hottenstein.


Former area resident Dr. Wanda Filer is the current president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. (Photo courtesy of the AAFP)

Filer earned her doctorate from Hahnemann University, Philadelphia, and completed residency in family medicine at a New Jersey hospital, where she served as chief resident.

“After I got into general surgery, I was casting about in my head, trying to think, what do I want to do,” she said. “I remembered Bill Hakkarinen, one of the first physicians at Frederick (Health Center), and I thought, that’s what I want to do.”

She continues as a part-time physician at Family First Health, a York County health center, and she founded Strategic Health Institute of York, a health care consulting firm.

“What I love about family medicine is the breadth of things I get to do,” Filer said, noting she cares for all ages from newborns to those approaching end of life.

“I can sew up their lacerations and take off their toenails. I can manage their diabetes and their heart attack. I love it,’’ she said.

The morning of the phone interview for this article, four of the patients she saw had been seeing her for 10 to 15 years.

“We have a history, and I love that continuity, really getting to know people when they’re celebrating and also when they’re hurting,” she said.

Advocating for ‘‘the family doctor.’’ According to Filer, family physicians have faced several challenges in recent years because of a fragmented health care system. They have not received payment in line with specialists; therefore, many family practitioners have trouble updating equipment and running offices.

Plus, an aging population requires concentrated medical attention.

“There was a period of time you had to see a patient every 10 to 15 minutes,” she said. “We need the time. We need to be able to spend 30 to 45 minutes with a patient.”

And as she advocates for family medicine with legislators, Filer is concerned about the emphasis put upon electronic health records.

“Physicians don’t like the idea of turning their back on a patient to work on the computer,” she said. “How do we make this a tool rather than an end in and of itself?”

As she seeks to elevate the value of family physicians, one of Filer’s goals is to promote prevention and wellness.

“Immunization rates are starting to improve,” she noted.

Currently, family medicine ranks third in terms of physicians showing symptoms of burnout, so as AAFP president, Filer hopes to stimulate conversation about the stress doctors experience.

“How do we do a better job of supporting one another while advocating to insurance companies and the government?” she asked.

Another of her goals is to relieve doctors from activities that do not add value to the patient/physician relationship.

“People are starting to listen to the idea that a family physician’s number one job that we want to be doing is taking care of patients,” she said.

“Wanda’s style is very good.’’ What drives this woman who is on the road 200 to 250 days a year promoting the cause of family medicine?

“Besides Starbucks?” she said laughing. “I enjoy what I do. I love the idea of continuous learning, which this job definitely lets me do. I never like to be bored. I also love to travel.”

The previous week, Filer started in Florida and ended in Texas.

“I get the chance to work with really motivated colleagues who are out there trying to make the world better,” she said. “That resonates with me.”

Three weeks earlier she had met with the surgeon general of the United States and had done an interview on National Public Radio. In October, she shook hands with President Obama at a conference on drug use.

Her husband, Dr. Robert Filer, a fertility specialist, often travels with her.

“We’ve been through every continent so far except South America and Antarctica,” she said.

For the last year, Wergin (then president of AAFP), Wanda Filer and the board chair so often traveled together to work on advocacy and political issues that they were called “the three presidents.”

“One thing Wanda has done is aligning well with our like organizations, such as the American College of Physicians,” Wergin said. “Wanda’s style is very good. That’s where your communication skills come in, and that’s a strength Wanda has.” 

Wergin also credited Filer for showing an optimistic attitude, innovative thinking and “cheerful persistence” as the AAFP deals with academic challenges as well as physicians’ training and workplace issues.

“It’s easy to get discouraged. She doesn’t see things that way,” he said. “She . . . keeps a positive outlook and moves forward. Her cheerful persistence usually wins people over.”

Filer’s quest for learning motivated her to complete an MBA program at Penn State University in 2009, and she serves on the board of York Traditions Bank, a position that helps her understand economics.

“I love to see that big picture of how you push here and this happens over there,” she said.

‘‘She’s an out-of-the box thinker.’’ Michael Kochenour, board chairman and CEO of York Traditions Bank, called Filer an entrepreneur with a commitment to good governance. Both were founding board members of the bank in 2002.

“She’s been a tremendous asset for the bank and is a very engaged, successful leader for our board,” he said. “She has impeccable integrity and truly values people, honesty, respect and trust. She is certainly a champion for those.”

According to Kochenour, Filer’s foresight and engagement helps organizations become successful.

“She’s enthusiastic,” he said. “She’s an out-of-the-box thinker. We have just been a major benefactor of all the qualities she brings.”

And Filer also gives back to the community.

“She has been involved in York Little Theater,” Kochenour said. (Her husband) Bob is involved in leadership and performing. They were co-chairs of their capital campaign. It’s just an example of (professional leadership) giving back.”

Says don’t fear leadership. According to Filer, her father once told her, “Leave the world a better place.”

“I watched both of them – my dad and mom – do exactly that,” she said. “I feel as though I want to continue to learn, I want to continue to serve and I want to be a change agent for the community, the commonwealth and for the country. And if I get to have some fun and travel along the way, that’s a perk.”

The Filers’ daughters are now 25 and 27; one lives New York City, and the other attends a Maryland college.

The message Filer sends to Sentinel-area young people is to look for open doors and walk through them.

“Recognize that growing up, there is a great foundation, but the world is much bigger,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to go out to explore it.”

According to Filer, the country needs everyone working at the top of their game.

“We need people to accept service and leadership and not be afraid of it,” she said. “Look at it as a gift. Get outside your own circumstances and explore, because you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.”          

Through her career as a physician and now as an advocate for AAFP, Filer has done just that.

“York Pennsylvania is lucky to have her,” Wergin said. “She’s not average, I can tell you that. She is a wonderful person and a great leader.”

 




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