Meet our residents

Chief Resident PGY-6

Greg Lee, MD, PhD

Hometown: - Elkhart, Indiana

Undergrad:  University of Michigan

Medical School: Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center - New Orleans

Why SIU? I was completely taken aback by how friendly everyone was (faculty, residents, staff, and the general populace). SIU was one of my first interviews and I found myself comparing all my other interviews to it. It's pretty rare to have a combination of a highly ranked program while at the same time having a friendly, constructive, and nonmalignant atmosphere. In the past, I've experienced learning environments that were unsavory and perpetuated a dog eat dog mentality. Even though I knew I could still succeed in that type of environment, if you have a choice, why wouldn't you choose a more compassionate atmosphere to be in for the next 6 years of your career? The attendings and residents were individuals that I aspired to be like not only in their surgical prowess but in how they teach and treat each other and everyone else. When talking to nurses and residents of other specialties and they mention how nice the "plastics" people are, that said a lot about a program to me. When it came down to the final rank list, SIU was the program that had the combination of reputation, faculty, residents, and research that aligned with my own goals and aspirations. I am very lucky and fortunate that they liked me too!​

Research: TRAIL to treat breast cancer and recurrence  (microsurgical viral vector to prevent recurrence coincident with reconstruction)

Chief Resident PGY-6

Jake Thayer, MD

Hometown: Howards Grove, Wisconsin

Undergraduate: Marquette University

Medical School: Medical College of Wisconsin

Why SIU? After rotating at SIU as a medical student, I was thrilled to match here for residency. The mentorship training model, robust caseload, and supportive environment are all qualities that set this program apart. It is a pleasure to work with such talented faculty that are so invested in our education and overall success!

Research: Facial nerve course during modified Berger approach for approach to the mandibular angle


Evyn Neumeister, MD, MPH

Hometown: Springfield, Illinois

Undergraduate: Illinois Wesleyan, BA Psychology

Medical School: Southern Illinois University School of Medicine

Why SIU?  I chose SIU Plastic Surgery because it provided everything I was looking for: expertise in plastic surgery, ongoing research in the field of medical and surgical education, a support system.  The education at SIU Plastic Surgery is outstanding, providing residents with the knowledge and autonomy they need to be successful plastic surgeons after training.  SIU Medicine is known for its medical and surgical education, research, and innovation; as someone who is interested in pursuing academic medicine, I knew SIU would be a place that I could learn and practice medical and surgical education strategies while in residency.  Finally, and most importantly, the attending physicians and my fellow residents at SIU are incredibly supportive, approachable, knowledgeable, and fun.  The comradery between the residents makes me excited and honored to be a part of the team.  I felt SIU Plastic Surgery would provide the best learning and living environment for me, and I am incredibly happy with my decision!​

Research: Surgical Education, Smart phone application for surgical preparation (Touch Surgery Trial)

Danielle Olla, MD

Hometown: Tucson, Arizona

Undergraduate: University of Arizona (B.S. Physiology Major, Dance Minor)

Medical School: University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix

Why SIU?  Even after my short stay in Springfield for my interview, I knew that SIU was the perfect fit for me. The residents and faculty made me feel welcome and were a big part of my decision to move so far from home. The program also has outstanding didactics, robust surgical exposure and an amazing reputation. I feel honored and lucky to be part of such a strong and respected program.

Research: ERAS protocols for outpatient breast surgery pain control


Jim Bruce, MD

Hometown: Plainfield, Illinois

Undergraduate: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Medical School: Loyola University Stritch College of Medicine

Why SIU: My interview at SIU was my first experience with the team here, and it proved to be exactly the right mix of what I wanted in a program. There is more than enough support so that no person ever feels lost, and the people here completely subvert the competitive/"prove your worth daily" mentality many surgical residencies are known for. The residents immediately welcomed me like family, and the attendings are devoted to teaching and mentorship. After realizing I loved the environment, I took a deeper look and noticed new training facilities, skills/micro/sim labs, and research labs that are fully staffed and heavily utilized by the residents. I saw the widely varied case load, the well structured resident didactics with excellent attending support, and the close relationships with the other surgical departments at SIU. I saw a group of people that I knew I would enjoy learning from and working with for years. I fell in love with the town, the people, and the program, and I am honestly lucky to have the opportunity to train here. 

Research: Cold Plasma for chronic wound decontamination

Michael Romanelli, MD

Hometown: Springfield, Illinois

Undergraduate: Northwestern University

Medical School: Southern Illinois University School of Medicine

Why SIU: I chose the Institute for Plastic Surgery at SIU for the comprehensive training and collegial learning environment. Not only does the program offer an extensive caseload and early exposure and autonomy in the operating room, the Microsurgical Skills Lab at SIU and the Surgical Skills Lab at the Memorial Center for Learning and Innovation both provide an excellent setting to hone our technical skills for the early intra-operative opportunities we have as residents. All this coupled with dedicated research time and the incredibly supportive staff in our basic science lab, my home institution was the ideal environment to continue my training. What ultimately made my decision was our attending’s enthusiasm and personal investment in our learning as seen throughout the mentorship training model here at SIU. At the end of the day, I am very grateful to train alongside this family of such incredibly talented and enjoyable team of plastic surgeons.


Justin Sawyer, MD


Hometown: Carlinville, Illinois

Undergraduate: University of Illinois, Springfield

Medical School: Southern Illinois University School of Medicine

Why SIU: When choosing where I wanted to spend six years for my plastic and reconstructive surgery training, the bar was set high by my experience with my home program at SIU.  The program offers a high clinical volume spanning the breadth of plastic surgery in addition to amazing faulty and residents that foster early experience and decision making with high but realistic expectations.  In addition, the program provides a great platform to launch an academic career with ample research opportunity, teaching experience, guidance, and mentorship.  It was a perfect fit.

Lexie Ruffolo, MD

Hometown: Booneville, Missouri

Undergraduate: University of Missouri

Medical School: University of Missouri School of Medicine, Columbia, MO

Why SIU: My first exposure to the SIU Division of Plastic Surgery was as a visiting medical student. Everyone was incredibly welcoming, and the camaraderie between faculty, residents, and staff created an excellent learning environment. I saw that resident education was a top priority – evidenced both by the instruction that occurred in the operating room as well as a strong didactic curriculum. I was impressed by MCLI, with space dedicated to resident skill development, as well as a research lab equipped with staff members that are available to assist the residents at any stage of their projects. I knew I wanted to join the SIU plastics family by the end of my rotation, and I am truly thankful for the opportunity to train here.


Jessie Koljonen, MD MS


Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona

Undergraduate: Johns Hopkins University

Graduate: Masters in Biomedical Science, Tufts University

Medical School: University of Arizona, College of Medicine - Phoenix

Why SIU: Without a doubt, SIU was my top choice. I was looking for a program that offers diverse clinical volume, early exposure to plastic surgery, and graduated autonomy with training in all areas of plastic and reconstructive surgery in a tight-knit, collaborative community. Beyond that, the unique mentorship model, robust didactic curriculum, and resources like our skills and micro labs were also big draws of the program for me. In the month I spent getting to know the faculty, residents, and staff as a fourth year visiting medical student, I felt like I had found my family, and could tell from day one that the supportive environment is one in which I will thrive. I knew I had found my home and the people I wanted to spend the next 6 years with. I’m so lucky to have matched at such an amazing and highly respected plastic surgery program! ​

Lauren Woldanski, MD


Hometown: New Berlin, Wisconsin

Undergraduate: University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Medical School: University of Wisconsin, School of Medicine and Public Health

Why SIU: There are so many reasons that come to mind. First and foremost – the family. During my interview process the thing that I found most important to me was finding a group of residents and faculty that considered each other family. I knew that what was going to make me the happiest was to be surrounded by a group of people who were constantly supporting each other in every aspect of life – after all, we were going to be together more often than not over these next 6 years. Many other institutions claimed they were family, but SIU is where I really felt it – not only between the residents, but also from the faculty towards the residents. Runner up is the Mentorship Model – not many places I interviewed at were able to run a program like this. I thrive in environments where I can develop one-on-one relationships with my mentors and have time to gradually earn their trust and gain independence. Working with different providers every day can be difficult because each have their own preferences and techniques; the Mentorship model minimizes that stress so I can focus more on learning what is really important. On top of all that is the impressive amount of resources available for resident success: anatomy labs, skills sessions, the micro lab, ample research support. When I first started the process of trying to pursue a plastic surgery residency, the program director at my medical school specifically told me that he thought I would be a good fit at SIU – and I honestly can’t believe how right he was.  I couldn’t be more thankful to be at this program and for this team that has so effortlessly made Springfield feel like it has always been home.