Service to Community Award: Bernard Micke M.D.

People before profit.

That’s the mantra Bernard Micke lives and practices by and a huge reason he is being honored by his peers and Madison Magazine for his service to community. Micke practiced primary care at UW Health’s Odana Clinic for over three decades, retiring just this year.

“I feel very lucky to live in Madison. I’ve had great mentors and colleagues,” he says. While he appreciates the special recognition, he insists there are plenty of area doctors who are just as qualified.

Still, Micke’s accomplishments and compassion for care are nothing to take lightly, especially in current times when health care can often be overshadowed by payroll and profits. He’s constantly examining the way our country views health care and has worked hard to have a positive impact on the way citizens are treated—medically and otherwise.

In addition to practicing full-time at Odana, Micke has served as president of the Wisconsin Medical Project, a humanitarian organization that supplies sister city Camagüey, Cuba, with much-needed medical supplies. He has visited the city more than twenty times since 1999, and on each trip he’s reaffirmed the ideal way to practice medicine he has championed in his own practice for years. And he’s learned from his Cuban colleagues.

“It was impressive how dedicated they were to their patients and how little they had to work with,” he says. “It became evident that there were things that could be done to make a difference to their care.”

They started small, supplying childhood antibiotics to clinics that didn’t have access to them independently. Today, aid is sent in the form of forty-foot seagoing containers filled with wheelchairs, medical and laboratory equipment, and more. But the people of Camagüey aren’t the only ones who’ve benefitted by the exchange.

“I think the biggest [issue] to me is that our country is the only one that doesn’t see health care as a right,” says Micke. “An awful lot of the problems that are
prevalent sort of stem from that. We’re the only country that has it for-profit.”

For Micke, it all boils down to prevention. By examining a problem before it becomes a larger issue, patients can avoid the costs—not to mention the potential risks—of treatment. That is, unless you’re one of millions of Americans who can’t afford it, don’t carry health insurance or have access to quality care.

“It’s well thought out,” he says of the Cuban system. “It applies to everyone in the country and promotes preventative care. It’s free and universally acceptable.” Micke notes that health care can’t be changed in a few simple steps or by a single person, but through society as a whole. “I think the legislation that was passed is a step, but it’s a small step.”

Micke’s goal is to get past the idea of treatment for profit alone and instead focus on the patient. As a family practitioner, he made house calls and took on extra hours for patients who didn’t have access to the clinic. The most rewarding part of practicing, he says, is getting to be involved in peoples’ lives.

“People have an extraordinary amount of courage,” he marvels.

While Micke will continue seeing patients at HospiceCare, Inc., retirements like his are leaving an unfortunate gap between the number of primary care providers and the number of patients who need them. What really bothers Micke is how few medical students are choosing primary care as a career path, which has led to a looming shortage in the field, most demonstrably in rural areas of Wisconsin and beyond.

“Primary care is shrinking when it should be expanding,” he says. “People want to have a relationship with a doctor or health care provider and the fewer there are the less likely that is to happen in the long term in meaningful ways.

“Family practice is rewarding, it’s not just money.”

– Hannah Kiddoo

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