Pictures and cutouts of butterflies are scattered throughout the office of Susan Hingle, M.D., associate professor of internal medicine. Her walls are filled with aphoristic messages about being kind to others and living life to the fullest. She wears a silver bracelet embedded with pictures of her two sons. A gymnast in childhood, she’ll still do a back flip if dared.
Dr. Hingle has embedded herself in SIU School of Medicine over the past decade, modestly asserting her ideas about women’s health, medical education, and the physician-patient relationship. Chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine David Steward, M.D., notes that Dr. Hingle “flies under the radar” at SIU School of Medicine. But her star is rising, both at SIU and on the national stage. With a full plate of professional and personal responsibilities, Dr. Hingle has achieved a strong focus and determination, setting her sights high while preserving an insightful and loving personality. How has she done it? The answer may lie in her latest read, Just Enough, by Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson, which advocates a life-work balance among four factors: Achievement, Significance, Legacy, and Happiness. Dr. Hingle is working to create “just enough” in each of those areas, which also correspond to her some of her favorite quotes.
“To those whom much is given, much is expected.”
Although a modest physician, Dr. Hingle is making significant achievements at a national level through the American College of Physicians (ACP), the national organization of internists. The ACP is the largest medical-specialty organization (130,000 members) and second-largest physician group in the United States. Dr. Hingle has won numerous accolades for her efforts, including the ACP’s Walter McDonald Young Physician Award and the Illinois Laureate Award. “It is exceptional for somebody as young in her career to have won these awards,” says John Tooker, M.D., MBA, MACP, associate executive vice president and CEO of the ACP. “Sue is a very good listener and quiet in her approach. She’s not self-serving; she relies on doing solid work. Those around her see her productivity, and she always acts in the interest of patients.”
Dr. Hingle first joined the ACP as a resident and immediately saw a deficit: no students or residents were represented on the Board of Governors or the Board of Regents, an oversight she has since seen corrected. She also noticed that while internists were excited about community service, the ACP didn’t have a way to promote and recognize their efforts. Dr. Hingle helped form a group to recognize members’ volunteerism. Now the annual meeting includes a networking session where members share their volunteering experiences. “About 100 people come to share what they’re doing and get rejuvenated. It reminds us of our purpose. I think the ACP was surprised at how many people showed up for first event. The energy and enthusiasm in that room made them realize that we had caught on to something. ”
In 2009, Dr. Hingle was elected the downstate Illinois governor of the ACP, leading its 803 members. “She was elected by peers,” notes Dr. Tooker. “Her peers have decided that she is the optimal person to lead that chapter. That’s pretty high recognition. Managing a chapter is quite a significant activity while maintaining professional and personal lives. She’s a great person.” The downstate section ranks eighth in the nation among all regions in membership (47 percent). As downstate governor, she hosted the downstate ACP convention in October, and she also serves on the executive committee for board of governers.
Entering her second year of the four-year term as governor, Dr. Hingle has worked to boost activities for the downstate section of Illinois. She’s instituted a Council of Young Physicians as a way to draw in people who fall away from the ACP after residency. To keep them involved, she has initiated a webinar series on issues such as billing and coding, health care reform, and the Patient Centered Medical Home. “I want to engage physicians, medical students, and residents to figure out what their needs are.” She also hopes to bring to the local level discussion of issues unique to women physicians, such as the work-life balance. “People in medicine are high achievers and want to put it all into everything, but that’s not healthy and not really possible. A lot of women struggle with that.”
In her leadership position with board of governors, she is well–respected among colleagues and considered a consensus-builder. Charles Cutler, M.D., Chair of the Board of Governors, calls Dr. Hingle “a gifted leader with substance and credibility. She can figure out the right policy and find middle ground on issues.” Dr. Cutler, an internist in Norristown, Pa., notes that her personality also shines. “Dr. Hingle is a terrific listener who lights up the room. She’s smart and insightful. People respond to that — I know I do.”
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Two losses in Dr. Hingle’s personal life have been significant guides for her professional goals. As an adolescent, Susan envisioned herself as a physical therapist. But her mother’s death broadened her perspective. “It opened the door that I could have a deeper impact as a physician.” Years later, Dr. Hingle watched her 35-year-old brother-in-law die of a massive brain stem stroke. “I witnessed deficiencies among the medical professionals’ communication skills. There were many different services involved, but no one was really talking to my sister. I had to tell her what was going on when I just wanted to be her sister, not her doctor. I saw that communications could be better.”
As a clerkship director and associate residency program director at SIU School of Medicine, she’s worked to help teach interpersonal and communication skills to students and residents. She has helped create a whole section of the curriculum for undergraduates and residents in internal medicine focusing on communication skills. “Knowledge is important, but you can always look that stuff up. Experienced physicians say that communication skills are the most important attribute of good doctors. Traditionally, little effort has been put into that at medical schools and residencies.” Thanks to attentive faculty such as Dr. Hingle, communication education is an increasingly important part of the SIU experience. “Now that faculty are paying more attention to how the students and residents communicate, they are paying more attention to it, too. My philosophy is honesty with compassion.”
“Be the change you wish to see in the world."
Dr. Hingle is creating a legacy of improving the primary care profession. She’d like to design a longitudinal experience for students, linking them with a primary care mentor throughout their years in medical school to help them learn the rewards of long-term primary care relationships. She’s also worked to improve chronic care for patients. “I love that my patients let me into their lives. I get to know them as people, and they remember my sons’ names and want to see pictures. I feel like a part of this community, and that means a lot to me.”
She learned about legacy from her mother. “She always told us that we’ve been given a lot, and we need to give back. I took that to heart. I owe it to the community to stay involved.”
At Rush Medical College in Chicago, she was part of a group that started a free clinic for pregnant, uninsured women. “I learned how hard it is to integrate into the community. You have to get out there and be with them. It took a couple of years to earn the trust of the people on the south side of Chicago. Trust develops over time, just like relationships with patients in primary care.” She also helped create the Rush Community Service Initiative Program, which is still active. At SIU School of Medicine, she co-organized a community service fair for employees, and she and her family volunteer with their church and school in an effort to instill in her children the notion of giving back.
“Kindness in words creates confidence; kindness in thinking creates profoundness; kindness in giving creates love.”
Through all her achievements, Dr. Hingle is finding the balance that brings happiness — especially as a wife to Kevin Hingle and a mother to Thomas, 8, and Ryan, 5.
Maintaining the delicate balance has not been easy, especially when her sons were younger. Today, she gets to work by 7 a.m. so she can be home for dinner. “Our neighbors always comment that they so often see us playing outside with our sons. But that doesn’t seem unusual to me. That’s just how we do it. At night, we play.” She’s also very close to her three sisters, who all live in central Illinois.
“At times in your life, you feel more balance than others,” Dr. Hingle says. “Right now, I feel like I have a pretty good balance. Students and residents want to have that, too. I know one of the areas I can make the biggest impact is helping them find that balance.”
So how does one do it? “One of the most important things is to have flexibility to change if your life off-track. Don’t be afraid to change. You can’t put a hundred percent into all the aspects; you’ll burn out and won’t be good at any of them. If you’re miserable at home, you’ll be miserable at work and vice versa.” She says she couldn’t do it without the support of her husband. She also finds stress relief in running. She ran two 5Ks on a weekend in September, averaging about an 8-minute mile.
Finding balance in each of these four Just Enough areas has allowed Dr. Hingle to advance as a beloved leader in her professional and personal roles. “SIU and Springfield have been a perfect fit for me and a great place for me to find a really good balance in all those four areas.”