Francie Ekengren likes to say that running saved her life.
About three years ago, after training for her first marathon, Ekengren, Wesley Medical Center’s chief medical officer, found a mass that turned out to be breast cancer.
Now that she’s healthy again, she’s gone from bald to a full head of reddish hair.
“I get a lot of Reba (McEntire) jokes,” she said.
When she’s not running or riding motorcycles with other doctors who are a part of the Dark Horse Gang, Ekengren says she likes to spend time with her husband, Hugh Ekengren, their three kids and read or watch “NCIS.”
Ekengren grew up in Nashville, Tenn., and was later a Hutchinson Salthawk before going on to study microbiology and then medicine at the University of Kansas.
For the last two years of medical school, Ekengren studied at the KU School of Medicine-Wichita. She was in Wesley’s family medicine residency program and went on to practice in its emergency department.
In 1995, she became the emergency department medical director and in 1999, chief medical officer, where she is responsible for overseeing privileges of hospital physicians, credentialing, dealing with complaints and helping with graduate medical education.
Q. Do you think that your experience with cancer helps you relate more to patients?
A. Absolutely. Definitely patients that have cancer. Having been through it, I can sit down and really visit with cancer patients now and say “Oh, you’re three days out from chemo, you must be feeling like this.”
It’s not an experience I want to have again, and I certainly don’t want to experience every disease so I’m better, but I think that’s been helpful.
Q. Has that experience had any other impact on you as a physician?
A. Having had cancer, a serious illness, a costly illness, makes me concerned about what’s going to happen in health care financially and how people who are not as well insured as I have been are going to get the same care I received. Getting a cancer diagnosis is devastating. It’s life or death. You either get that treatment or you know you’re dying the cancer is eating away at you and I think that’s what gives me a pause to worry about health care and how all Americans are going to be able to fight a disease like cancer and many others.
Q. What do you think about the current changes in our health care system and the impact that will have?
A. I think that reform coming now is going to move us closer to a one-payer system that Medicare and Medicaid won’t be able to survive the way it is now, so are we moving closer to socialized medicine? Probably.
However it turns out there’s going to be change that’s going to be challenging and we’re just going to have to meet that head on. Trying to hold on to the way things are now is not going to work.
Q. How do you balance the administrative role with being a physician?
A. I work in the Wesley emergency department on our main campus and the west side. I do somewhere between 40 and 60 hours a month. I also help in the wound care outpatient clinic and see patients in-house for wound care. I started that unit in 1996, so I’m the medical director of that unit. I’m the president of Mid Kansas Wound Specialists, which is the group that provides the doctors and PAs for the outpatient unit.
Q. What’s the favorite part about your job?
A. It’s the people I work with … I guess the work really speaks to me, but it’s because of the people. I get to do a people job. There are a lot of really nice, fun, decent people here and that’s what’s best.