When the University of Des Moines first asked 2008 graduate Dr. Robert Greenhagen to serve as a preceptor for students in the College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery in 2014, he hadn’t been in residency for a few years. only.
“I used to have other students around,” he said.
He has been a steadfast and enthusiastic tutor ever since. Co-owner of the Nebraska and Iowa Foot and Ankle Center, he is an assistant clinical instructor for the college and was director of the Midwest Foot and Ankle Fellowship in limb salvage and advanced foot and ankle reconstruction.
“Having students in our clinic has many mutual benefits. This keeps you in your game, because young people are always asking questions. It drives quality and innovation,” he said. “We coach students not only to succeed academically and clinically, but also to be able to work in teams.”
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Greenhagen may be able to relate to the insecurities of youth in part because of his own. A graduate of Gross Catholic High School in Bellevue, he changed majors seven times at Briar Cliff University in his first two years.
“Fortunately, these changes covered my general needs. My poor adviser had to sit me down and tell me it was time to focus on more than just my social life,” he said. “Still full of uncertainties, I choose to return my original major, pre-medical, but by default more than by desire.”
He eventually graduated from Briar Cliff with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. After taking a year off, he took the advice of his childhood friend, Dr. Patrick Nelson, to consider podiatric medicine. He followed Dr. Robert Hilkemann to his clinic in Omaha, where Nelson’s mother, Carol, worked as a nurse.
After completing his residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in 2011, Greenhagen returned to Hilkemann’s clinic, quickly becoming a partner. In 2014, Greenhagen recruited Nelson to the firm. This allowed Hilkemann to retire and pursue a political career while fulfilling Nelson and Greenhagen’s lifelong dream.
“Talent and confidence are two undervalued things in business. I knew with Dr. Nelson I had both, and with him we could build something big,” Greenhagen said.
The Nebraska and Iowa Foot and Ankle Center has since expanded with additional podiatrists and locations in Omaha, Papillion, Fremont and Council Bluffs.
While the growth of the practice is a matter of pride for Greenhagen, his real sense of pride is the success of the students who have rotated into the practice. Recently, Dr. Jorge Amaro, a 2019 University of Des Moines graduate who completed a rotation with Greenhagen in 2017, joined the Foot and Ankle Center team.
“I take so much pleasure in seeing these women and men become incredible surgeons; having one come back and join the team is even better. It gives all of our future students proof that the journey is worth it,” said Greenhagen.
A past president of the Nebraska Podiatric Medical Association, Greenhagen has served on committees for the American Board of Podiatric Medicine, the American Society of Podiatric Surgeons, and the Nebraska Podiatric Medical Association.
He was the first medical director of the Fit Feet program for Special Olympics Nebraska. He is a graduate of the American Board of Podiatric Medicine and the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. His passion for podiatry is also reflected in his many conferences, both regional and national, and the many publications in podiatric journals and texts.
He and his team recently began seeing patients at the Omaha Veterans Administration Medical Center.
By 2017, the Omaha VA had lost its two podiatry providers and therefore began sending patients to local podiatry practices for care. After seeing a number of veterans, Greenhagen became frustrated with restrictions on offsite care. He asked the administration if he could bring the Nebraska and Iowa Foot and Ankle Center to the VA.
“Previously our hands were so tied to take care of these veterans and active duty personnel, so I asked if we could see them at the VA to ensure quality of care,” he lamented. . “Now it’s the second busiest clinic in Omaha VA.”
Greenhagen is Section Chief of the Podiatric Surgery Department and Wound Care Department of the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System and is Co-Chair of the Podiatry Department of VISN 23: VA Midwest Health Care Network, which serves more than 440,000 registered veterans in 10 Midwestern states.
He said he enjoys serving at the VA because the camaraderie and interactions between staff and patients are similar to those at his office. With his continued focus on education, he hopes to rotate students with him to the VA starting next year.
“Interacting with veterans is great, like interacting with students,” he said. “They bring a perspective that constantly challenges your point of view.”
Greenhagen attributes his success to his family, in particular to an “incredible wife”, Nicole. They have four children, Robert, Jeffrey, Nicholas and Julia.
He said he looks forward to what the future will bring.
“I don’t know what the next step will be,” he said. “From my perspective, travel is much more about who I’m with than where we’re going.”
This story was provided by Des Moines University.