Waupaca Physician Retires After Long Career

Robert L. Peterson, MD, Served Community for More Than 40 Years

After caring for Waupaca area patients for more than 40 years, Robert L. Peterson, MD, celebrated his 70th birthday in mid-March by retiring.

“I decided it was time. I’m looking forward to spending more time with my family and doing all the things I enjoy, like hunting and fishing and managing our property for wildlife, and sharing those passions with my seven grandchildren,” said Dr. Peterson, who was medical director of the emergency department at ThedaCare Medical Center-Waupaca when he retired.

As he was finishing medical school, Dr. Peterson came to Waupaca to shadow family medicine physician Jerry Salan, MD, and fell in love with the people and the area. Dr. Salan was simply called “Dr. Jerry,” to distinguish him from his father, Sam Salan, MD.  Similarly, Dr. Peterson became “Dr. Bob” to distinguish him from the “other” Dr. Peterson in Waupaca, cardiologist Lowell Peterson, MD.  

After completing his residency in 1975, Dr. Peterson and two other new family medicine physicians Mark Lochner, MD, and Terry Hankey, MD, joined Dr. Salan to form Waupaca Family Medicine Associates. During his residency, Dr. Peterson was able to incorporate surgical training and brought that knowledge to his own practice, adding laparoscopic surgeries, obstetrics including caesarean sections, and other procedures. 

“Being a family medicine physician has been wonderful. You get to know the people and you are not just their doctor, but their friend,” he said. “The nursing staff and others at the hospital have been wonderful to work with. My practice was large and I delivered babies of the babies I delivered. I just really enjoyed caring for my patients.”

In 1987, Dr. Peterson wanted more flexibility in his schedule to spend more time with his family, and decided to open a solo practice on the hospital campus. In 2009, Dr. Peterson sold his practice to ThedaCare. “I was already thinking about retirement and what would happen to my patients when I retired. I wanted there to be a smooth transition for them.” 

When Dr. Peterson first came to Waupaca, all of the physicians took turns working in the emergency room. Dr. Peterson, who enjoyed working part-time in the emergency room while also managing his practice, played a vital role in encouraging the hospital to hire physicians to work in that department full-time.  When ThedaCare Physicians-Waupaca hired a new physician in 2010 to accommodate Dr. Peterson’s patient load, he moved full-time to the emergency department.

Audrey Rosin, a registered nurse and manager of the emergency department at ThedaCare Medical Center-Waupaca, said Dr. Peterson was instrumental in raising the bar on safety, quality and patient satisfaction in the emergency department.

“Dr. Peterson rarely gets flustered and would keep the department moving forward no matter how busy it got. As a nurse, I have to say the most wonderful thing about him is his support for the nursing profession at ThedaCare Medical Center-Waupaca,” she said. “It is really special when you have a physician who empowers nurses and views them as partners and key drivers in reaching high quality care.”

Dr. Peterson said he enjoyed working in the emergency department and caring for patients with a variety of illnesses and injuries.  “Every once in a while, I would see one of my former patients come through and I would tell them that I would rather see them out in the community than in the emergency room,” he laughed. “That’s one of the things I enjoyed about working in Waupaca – it is a great community and you form lasting relationships with patients and you regularly see them when you are out and about.”

Rosin said Dr. Peterson will be missed. “He has touched so many lives including patients, families, staff members and the community,” she said. “As his friend, the most wonderful thing about him is his commitment to others. The man would literally give you the shirt off his back. I know if I or my family ever needed anything he would be there at a moment’s notice.”

Looking back at his decision more than 40 years ago to move to Waupaca, Dr. Peterson said he is pleased with the outcome.  “Waupaca has been a great community to live in, raise kids in and now retire in,” he said. “I’m also appreciative of having the opportunity to work for ThedaCare. They really care about their people and care about providing patients with the best possible medical care.”

 For more than 100 years, ThedaCare™ has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast Wisconsin. The organization serves over 200,000 patients annually and employs more than 6,800 healthcare professionals throughout the region. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 32 clinics in nine counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service.  The ThedaCare Regional Cancer Center in Appleton opened in February 2016. For more information, visit www.thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.