Dr. Wertsch Receives Lifetime Achievement Award
The Lifetime Achievement Award is the highest honor bestowed by the AANEM. It is given to members who are recognized as major contributors in the fields of NM and EDX medicine through their efforts in teaching, research, and scholarly publications.
For the first time in AANEM’s history, the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award is a woman: Jacqueline J. Wertsch, MD, has been named this year’s recipient for substantial contributions to her field, and longtime, dedicated support to the AANEM.
Dr. Wertsch received her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin (1969), she graduated medical school from The Medical College of Pennsylvania (Drexel,1974). Her postgraduate training included University of Illinois-Rockford (Family Practice 1975), Northwestern University (PMR, 1980) and a Medical College of Wisconsin fellowship in Clinical Neurophysiology (electrodiagnosis and cerebral evoked potentials, 1980). Dr. Wertsch came to the Medical College of Wisconsin in 1980, where she was on faculty for 30 years until 2010, when she retired from clinical practice. Dr. Wertsch was awarded an emeritus professor appointment and continues teaching activities thru EduDoc LLC.
Her accomplishments cannot be overstated. She has authored 100 scientific reviewed publications, 25 book chapters and countless national and international presentations. Some of her accolades include the New Jersey Medical School Excellence in Teaching award in 2007, the Dawn Janisse Award for Education/Research and Advocacy in 2006, PMR Department Teacher of the Year 1990, 1992, 2005, and 2008, and the PMR Department Teaching Honor Roll 1985-1989 and 1991, 1993, and 1995.
Dr. Wertsch’s earliest inspiration was her mother, a school teacher who graduated from college when she was 18. She would ride her horse to the one-room school house in town, and taught children all the way through high school, according to Dr. Wertsch.
“She also figured out a way to become a pilot. My mom very much gave me and my brother a love for reading and science, and eventually that led me to DNA. DNA was first discovered when I was in high school! It changed our whole understanding of life.”
She recalled the battling the stereotype of being a woman trying to break into the medical field.
“Women weren’t doctors in those days – it actually never occurred to me to become a doctor. I planned on going to nursing school. But I desired to attend medical school because I found it so interesting. I had no preconceived notions of what being a physician was. So I went for it.”
Dr. Wertsch says every success and positive outcome in her career can be traced back to Dr. John Melvin, who exposed her to the possibilities in EMG. Until she met Dr. Melvin, she hadn’t even considered EMG as a career option.
“He recruited me in 1980 for an EMG fellowship at the Medical College of Wisconsin. The fellowship was very thoughtfully structured, with lots of opportunity for exploration and networking. I worked closely with the surgical hand fellows, learning the valuable role EMG can fill in trauma and surgical
She would go on to train up to 5 fellows per year for the next 3 decades as the EMG Fellowship Director. Dr. Wertsch is most proud of the numerous awards her students have earned, including many trainees winning AANEM Junior Member Recognition Awards, numerous President’s Research Initiative Awards and 2 EMG fellows winning the Golseth Young Investigator Award (Dr. Gulapar Phongsamart in 2000, and Dr.
Niles Roberts in 2008).
Dr. Wertsch has made an incredible impact in the field of PMR and has been an important contributor to the AANEM. At the Medical College of Wisconsin, she was the Director of Research for the Department of PMR from 1990-2004. She also was the EMG Fellowship Program Director – Rehabilitation Medicine Service at Zablocki VA Medical Center from 1982-2010. She served on the AANEM Board of Directors as President and Board Member, and on multiple AANEM Committees as a member and chair including: Annual Meeting Coordination Committee, Course Committee, Disciplinary Committee, Ethics and Peer Review Committee, Finance Committee, Member Retention Task Force, Nomenclature Committee, Program Committee, Regional Workshop, and Workshop Committee. She served on the Editorial Board of Muscle & Nerve and received AANEM’s Distinguished Research Award in 2003.
“I know many of the other people who have received this Lifetime Achievement Award. I consider them true friends, and that’s a big part of AANEM. I appreciate the networking and the support for each other. When I saw the list of past winners, it struck me that I know all of these people quite well. There’s no question about AANEM’s value with regards to networking, AANEM’s vast resources, and the tremendous support system of thousands of members at your disposal.”
One of Dr. Wertsch’s more notable memories as President of AANEM occurred during the AANEM Annual Meeting in Toronto that year. It just so happened that Queen Elizabeth II of England was in town that weekend…and staying at the same hotel the AANEM Annual Meeting was taking place. Dr. Wertsch recalls walking into the lobby just as the Queen was walking by, wearing a similarly designed suit and the same color that Dr. Wertsch had on.
“Many attendees asked me if I coordinated what I wore with the Queen of England. She bumped me out of the presidential suite!”
Aside from her brush with royalty, Dr. Wertsch is most proud of creating the President’s Research Initiative Awards that continue to be awarded every year, and for sticking to what she thought would be a great plenary topic in 2002.
“I chose ulnar neuropathies as the plenary topic. Some thought it was too simple and that there wouldn’t be many in attendance. But I knew the outcomes were not where they should be, and we ended up having the highest membership attendance to date.”
Dr. Wertsch’s body of work exemplifies the fact that one person can make an enormous contribution to a field. With 25 years of NIH, CDC and VA continuous extramural funding, Dr. Wertsch has mentored numerous predoctoral and postdoctoral biomedical engineers in addition to clinical teaching 30 years of residents and a generation of electrodiagnostic physicians as her fellows (46 EDX fellows from 1981-2010).
Dr. Wertch is grateful for Dr. Melvin's encouragement to learn about electrodiagnostic medicine and is happy to have returned the favor by devoting her time to training others.
“That’s what medicine is. It’s constant learning. And the trainees ask the best questions – they challenge things. EMG had a lot of processes that needed challenging, and trainees would force me to think about things differently. We were able to do 25+ years of research in the field of EMG. Working with our hand surgical fellows, I realized I was able to answer questions for them through EMG that they had no other way to answer.”
Dr. Wertsch has a simple message for any young physicians breaking into their field.
“Remember to always be a physician: that means you are your patient’s advocate. You do not work for an administration. You work for the patient. Medicine has always been based on an authority-down hierarchy. You have to stay true to your responsibility for the patient, and break out of the hierarchy to make sure they are being served. Don’t let others redefine the job for you. There’s only one boss – the patients we’re trying to serve.”