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Endowing Our Excellence

Gundersen is an academic medical center distinguished by its medical education and research programs. By supporting these programs, we ensure that the education and development of physicians will continue for generations.

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Unwavering commitment to education

United by a common vision and inspired by one of our greatest educators, Endowing Our Excellence is a $11 million cooperative campaign supporting medical education. This unprecedented endowment initiative strives to permanently fund the chair of the Department of Medical Education and 4 principal directorships for the Transitional, Internal Medicine, General Surgery and Family Medicine residencies. 

The Gundersen Medical Foundation Board of Directors remains committed to medical education by pledging up to $5 million in contributions. 

The Board allocates $1 million in unrestricted reserves to each of the endowments. Our $11 million campaign goal will be achieved with: 

  • $6 million in new contributions, including planned gifts and estate commitments 
  • $5 million in matching funds from board-directed reserve assets 
About Gundersen Medical Foundation

Support Medical Education

Your support helps make medical education possible. You can support our endowments, or any program that inspires you, with a personal donation, a business gift or an honorarium.

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Family statue outside Gundersen's La Crosse hospital.

Our endowments

The Edwin L. Overholt, MD, Endowment - Chair of Medical Education

Goal: $3 million 

Honoring its namesake, The Edwin L. Overholt, MD, Endowment provides the resources needed to maintain the visionary leadership on which our reputation for excellence in education was built. Our program is committed to excellence in education in a culture of collaboration that promotes lifelong learning and the growth of caring healthcare professionals dedicated to the communities they serve. 


Gundersen Vice President of Medical Education Endowment Value










A message from Benjamin Jarman, MD, Vice President of Medical Education 

In 2022, our Medical Education team transitioned leadership in several of our programs while maintaining accreditation standards across our diverse and cutting-edge programs.  

Having been under the pressure of the pandemic for the past couple of years, 2022 brought new opportunities for growth and a return to a “new normal” regarding recruitment, continuing medical education activity planning and educational opportunities/structure. 

  • 25% of Gundersen Medical Education graduates stayed at Gundersen  
  • More than 1,200 undergraduate and graduate learners completed clinical experiences 
  • Our CME team hosted 3 visiting professors on site and held over 220 accredited activities 
  • Transition of Dr. Greg Thompson to Dr. Benjamin Jarman as Vice President of Medical Education 
  • Welcomed new Residency Program Directors in Family Medicine (Dr. Robyn Borge) and General Surgery (Dr. Melissa Johnson) 
  • Institutional Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) accreditation without areas for improvement or citation 

The measures of success in Medical Education are based in our abilities to retain professional talent, to train our residents/fellows to serve patient populations across our nation, to support our medical and clinical staff in their education needs and to educate medical, nursing and allied health students in their pursuit of the next phases of their education.  

We are blessed with an amazing administrative team that supports our residents, fellows, students and clinicians with fierce commitment to be successful. The philanthropic support we receive from you to help us reach our goals is humbling and appreciated.  

I look forward to leading this team into 2023 and beyond.

The James Webster, MD, & Lucian Griffith, MD, Endowment - Director of Transitional Year Residency

Goal: $2 million 

Major benefactors Dr. Stephen and Katie Webster established this endowed directorship in 2005 to honor their fathers' dedication to teaching that has transcended generations. The Transitional Year Residency's goal is to offer a year of comprehensive, balanced clinical instruction to residents while fostering their professional growth. We are dedicated to helping residents become the best doctors they can be, regardless of the subspecialty in which they are enrolled. 


Gundersen Director of Transitional Year Residency Endowment Value











A message from Dr. Lori Weber, Transitional Year Residency director 

Gundersen’s Transitional Year Residency Program continued to thrive in 2022 despite new and interesting challenges.  

We launched a new community project partnering with the organization Hope Restores, an organization in La Crosse that supports, advocates, listens and bridges the gap between African Americans and our community. Their services help people of color receive resources that support their needs. They use a cultural approach that helps clients feel comfortable and not judged. The Transitional Year residents and I have been going to Hope Restores and giving health talks. 

Additional highlights from the past year include: 

  • High caliber residents continue our 100% pass rate for Step 3 of the boards 
  • High-quality education with Transitional Year Residency specific curriculum focused on scientific inquiry, healthcare disparities and social determinants of health and resident wellness 
  • Resident wellness initiatives continue with A.W.A.R.E. – A Wellbeing and Resiliency Experience program 
  • New resident medical, parental and caregiver leave of absence policy implemented in May. This policy allows up to 6 weeks of paid leave for approved, qualifying reasons and was instrumental for the health and wellbeing of 2 residents this year. 

Productive scholarly activity:  

  • Dr. Blake Sarrazin published “Eye Blink-Associated Saccades” in Cureus in September 2021 
  • Dr. Jennifer Dens Higano presented “The evolving status of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion: A study of US and Canadian Medical School Mission Statement Change" at the Academy for Professionalism in Health Care’s National Conference in June 
  • Dr. Jennifer Tran with the help of Dr. Sarah Hughes got the article “Lichenoid Drug Eruption to Topical Latanoprost” accepted to the International Journal of Dermatology 
  • Drs. Michael Chmielewski and Sara Kullberg presented the “Dermatology Intern Prep” course to our graduating Gundersen WARM Medical Students in April 

The following residents had poster presentations at the Gundersen Health System Academic Day: 

  • Drs. Andrew Ernst and Blake Sarrazin – “When a CPK of 50,000 isn’t Rhabdomyolysis: A Case Report of HANAC Syndrome” 
  • Dr. Kelsey Frechette – “Outcome Differences of COVID-19 Hospitalizations and Deaths in the Post-Vaccination Wave in Cancer Populations” 
  • Dr. Sara Kullberg – “Ethical Considerations for Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer in the Elderly” 
  • Drs. Brandon Johnson and Nathaniel Johnson – “Rehabilitation Considerations in a Patient with Coffin-Lowry Syndrome Following Total Spinal Fusion” 

Your philanthropic support provides the Transitional Year Residency with resources for educational, scholarly, resident wellness and community activities. For that and so much more, we are grateful for your continued support and thank you! 

The Edward Winga, MD, Endowment - Director of Internal Medicine Residency

Goal: $2 million 

Lead gifts made by Dr. Edward and Sharon Winga provided the foundation for the Internal Medicine Residency endowment in 2006. This program was modeled after Dr. Overholt's acclaimed military Internal Medicine Residency. Our goal is to develop physician leaders who are experts in independent practice using real-world evidence-based data to provide quality, safe and cost-effective care through a multi-disciplinary team model. 


Gundersen Director of Internal Medicine Residency Endowment Value










A message from Rachel Hawker, MD, Internal Medicine Residency director 

Our Internal medicine residents had a very successful 2022. In March, we had a great ‘Match’ with 8 new interns joining us in July. These interns joined us from the University of Iowa, Medical College of Wisconsin, University of the Incarnate Word School, University of North Dakota, Pennsylvania State University and the Ross University School of Medicine. 

We graduated 8 outstanding internists from our program in June. Of the 8 graduates, 4 accepted hospitalist positions: 2 accepted hospitalist positions at Gundersen, 1 in Milwaukee, Wis., and 1 in Nashville, Tenn. Additionally, 3 residents entered fellowship: an Endocrinology fellowship at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, an Endocrinology Fellowship at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and a Nephrology Fellowship at the University of Texas MB in Galveston, Texas. Finally, we had 1 resident stay on as our Chief Internal Medicine Resident. 

In September our residents attended the Wisconsin State American College of Physicians (ACP) Meeting, where they once again competed against other Internal Medicine residents from across the state in 5 separate competitions. Our residents took first place in 3 of these competitions! 

Our residents took first place in medical jeopardy, beating teams from the University of Wisconsin, Medical College of Wisconsin, Marshfield and Aurora. As the winning team, our Gundersen jeopardy team will have the honor of representing the state of Wisconsin at the National ACP jeopardy competition in San Diego, Calif., in April.  

Dr. Garrett Weber took first place in the Research Vignette competition which grants him the honor of presenting his research at the National ACP meeting.  

Dr. Brooke Jennings took first place in the Narrative Medicine Competition. 

In December, all 3of our residents seeking subspecialty training successfully matched into fellowships.  

Dr. Steve Szlembarski will go to the University of Minnesota for Rheumatology, Dr. Garrett Weber will stay at Gundersen for Hematology/Oncology and Dr. Brian Sowka, our chief resident, successfully matched into a Gastroenterology fellowship at Arnot Health at Arnot Ogden Medical Center in New York.  

All 3 of these fellowships are very competitive and we are extremely impressed with their hard work and success. 

The William Kisken, MD, & Thomas Cogbill, MD, Endowment - Director of General Surgery Residency

Goal: $2 million 

Established in 2006 by alumni and friends of the program, this endowment honors prominent and extraordinary directors Drs. William Kisken and Thomas Cogbill. The goal of the General Surgery Residency is to develop surgeons who are excellent clinicians committed to patient care and lifelong education. The program offers a comprehensive curriculum that emphasizes academic excellence, technical proficiency, clinical research and an in-depth understanding of current surgical practices. 

Gundersen Director of General Surgery Residency Endowment


A message from Melissa Johnson, MD, General Surgery Residency director 

The 2022-23 academic year has been one of many changes for the General Surgery Residency. Dr. Ben Jarman (former program director) is now the Designated Institutional Officer (DIO) for all Gundersen residency programs.  

I was privileged to transition from associate program director to program director in October 2022 and appointed 2 highly qualified partners to the role of APD in January 2023, Dr. Josh Pfeiffer (MIS/Bariatric Surgery) and Dr. Kevin Riggle (Pediatric Surgery). Dr. Lee Trombetta continues to excel in his role as director of surgical simulation.  

We continue our mission to train outstanding general surgeons. Our 2022 graduates include: 

  • Dr. Richard Cutts and Dr. Faraz Khan, who joined a general surgery practice together in Davenport, Iowa 
  • Dr. Alyssa Welch, who joined a general surgery practice in Lafayette, Ind., in preparation for future global surgery through World Medical Missions in West Africa 

We welcomed our first class of 4 interns as part of our program expansion and currently have 17 residents in the program. We have maintained continuous accreditation with the ACGME and have completed another successful recruitment season. Hundreds of applicants are seeking the opportunity to train broadly in general surgery, with many interested in caring for underserved populations nationally and internationally.  

Our elective rotations in Alaska with alumnus Dr. Abe Tsigonis and in Kenya provides our residents with incredible training opportunities and attract the next generation of general surgeons to our program. 

Under the leadership of Dr. Travis Smith, our department continues to expand with the addition of 3 trauma/critical care surgeons, a breast surgeon and an acute care surgeon. Our faculty are highly engaged in surgical education - it is who we are and what we do. 

The most notable event of 2022 was the loss of Dr. Thomas Cogbill to metastatic prostate cancer. The impact he had on each person that he met, taught, mentored and cared for is immeasurable. The endowment that bears his name will allow us to continue his mission at Gundersen and his spirit will live on in the next generation of surgeons.  

We are so grateful for your support of the William Kisken, MD & Thomas Cogbill, MD endowment.

The Lea Cornell, MD, Endowment – Director of Family Medicine Residency

Goal: $2 million  

The Family Medicine Residency, our newest endowment established in 2013, added another important residency to our region. Lea Cornell, MD, retired from Gundersen after serving patients in rural Wisconsin for more than 30 years. Dr. Cornell’s generous gifts support the next generation of family medicine physicians and encourage others to follow in her footsteps. 

Gundersen Director of Family Medicine Residency Endowment










A message from Robyn Borge, MD, Family Medicine Residency director 

The Family Medicine Residency Program had another exciting year in 2022. Our founding program director, Paul Klas, MD, retired in October. Dr. Klas established a foundation of fantastic education and experiences for our resident physicians. We hope to build upon his vision. 

We have continued our journey to help the underserved in our community. Our street medicine team provides care to people experiencing homelessness in La Crosse. We have also started a pilot called “Fridays on the Farm” and travel to farms within our region caring for migrant farm workers. 

We serve many who are not eligible for health insurance. I believe that our programs that “get us outside our walls” have made a profound impact on our recruiting. We have been attracting some of the best and brightest medical students. So many residents and medical students are driven to programs that are involved in the community and care for our underserved. 

Half of our graduates are hired for positions at Gundersen. Thirteen of 27 graduates (including this year’s graduating class) have filled openings with us. Our graduates and residents have committed to positions in Decorah, Hillsboro, La Crescent, La Crosse, Onalaska, Sparta, Tomah, Viroqua and Whitehall. 

We are grateful for those, including Dr. Lea Cornell, who have provided support to medical education and our program.

The Dr. Dennis K. and Sharon B. Ryan Optometry Residency Endowment

Goal: $1 million 

The Dr. Dennis K. and Sharon B. Ryan Optometry Residency Endowment fund supports 2 optometry residencies focused on Ocular Disease and Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation. The Ryans established the fund to support students from humble beginnings reach their full potential and make a positive impact on their lives, patients and communities. 

Gundersen Optometry Residency Endowment Value











A message from Kristen Reierson, OD, Optometry Residency director 

It’s hard to believe that 2022 has come to an end, but another year brings another exciting new chapter to our residency programs.  

Our 2021-22 Ocular Disease resident, Rachel Warner, graduated and accepted a position at Bauer and Clausen in Billings, Mont. Meagan Tucker, OD, our Ocular Disease/Neuro-Optometry resident, graduated and is working at the Kellogg Eye Center at the University of Michigan and starting up a neuro optometric rehabilitation program at that facility.  

We are so proud of everything they have accomplished. 

A new academic year began in July 2022 and both Optometry residents presented posters at the American Academy of Optometry Meeting. Jennie Tomlinson, our Ocular Disease resident, presented a poster titled, New-Onset Choroidal Neovascularization Secondary to Pentosan Toxicity in an 86-Year-Old Woman, and Abolade Odyuemi, our Ocular Disease/Neuro-Optometry Rehabilitation resident, presented a poster titled, The Diagnosis and Management of Initial Optic Neuritis: A Case Report. 

In addition to busy clinic schedules, both residents have led our monthly Journal Club and presented case reports at our department meetings. They also presented at Indiana University’s Case Conference in April 2023. 

We continue to be grateful for the Ryan Optometry Residency Endowment and to Gundersen Medical Foundation for helping us educate the next generation to be outstanding eyecare providers!

I could not be the well-rounded physician I am today without my training at the Gundersen Family Medicine Residency. Through experiences in the clinic and in our greater community, I have learned the value of being a primary care physician that understands, integrates in and gives back to the community. Our outreach programs are unparalleled and offer a chance to truly bear witness to patients’ stories and, quite literally, meet them wherever they are at in their lives.

Hear why our residents chose Gundersen

Frequently asked questions

My residency/fellowship program doesn’t have an endowment. Can I still support it?

All of our programs have a fund that supports resident and fellow training needs. If you do not see your program/fellowship listed, please select ‘other’ and type in the program you wish to support. 

Make a donation

Can I make a donation to an endowment in memory/honor of someone?

Yes. We will recognize your memorial/honorarium with a letter to the next of kin or person you’ve honored, notifying them a gift has been made in their name. This is a meaningful way to recognize an important person while supporting medical education at Gundersen. 

Make a donation

Can I leave a gift benefitting my residency/fellowship through my estate plans?

Thank you for choosing to ensure medical education training at Gundersen stays strong for years to come. We are grateful for your thoughtful intention. Please call the Gundersen Medical Foundation Philanthropy team at (608) 775-6600 or visit us online to learn more about making a planned gift through your estate

Connect with us

We’re here to answer your questions.

Email us

1900 South Ave.
La Crosse, WI 54601

(608) 782-7300

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