It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Drs. Bob Shepley and Brad Wille met on their first day of medical school in 1980. They’ve worked side by side for the past 30 years, building a first-class orthopedic practice based in Northfield – with 25,000 surgeries and about 150,000 patient visits between them.
Now, they retire together.
Drs. Wille and Shepley share an entrepreneurial spirit; coming out of residency at University of Minnesota in 1989, both wanted to set up a private practice. Both grew up in outstate Minnesota; they thought a small town would be good territory for orthopedics, typically a big-city, big-hospital practice at the time. So they drew a 50-mile radius around Minneapolis, and pegged the small towns.
They found willing partners at Northfield Hospital.
“It was a huge step for the hospital to gear up for orthopedics,” Dr. Shepley says. “Hiring nursing, investing in equipment – it was a big commitment for the organization, and they did it.”
“Hospital leadership, especially CEO Ken Bank, were committed to offering care comparable to that in the Twin Cities,” Dr. Wille adds. “He and Mary Crow get tremendous credit for sticking their necks out to support us.”
“The irony is, when we first started, everyone want to go to Ridges in Burnsville,” Dr. Shepley recalls. “Now, they prefer to stay here.”
Northfield Hospital’s commitment to first-class orthopedics attracted other surgical specialists, including general surgery, OB/GYN, ENT and opthamology, Dr. Wille says. “Right now, it’s the best group of surgeons we’ve ever had here, in a range of specialties.
“Northfield Hospital’s leadership continues to keep orthopedics as a high priority,” Dr. Wille adds. “That’s unique among independent hospitals.”
The partners leave patients in good hands, including Northfield residents Hans Bengtson, MD and Clinton Muench, MD.
“I did surgery on Hans when he was in ninth grade,” Dr. Shepley recalls. “He said then that he wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. It’s wonderful that he did it – and then chose to practice in Northfield.”
What’s changed in 30 years? Better pain management and physical therapy mean patients recover faster with fewer complications. Newer, less-invasive procedures help, too.
And the next 30 years? Both surgeons say orthobiologics (stem-cell treatments) show promise to intervene early and stave off conditions like arthritis. “It’d be nice to be able to intervene before problems develop, if you can identify who’s at risk,” Dr. Wille says. “And let the body heal itself,” Dr. Shepley adds.
And tomorrow? “My grandmother always said, ‘Leave a place better than you found it,’” Dr. Shepley says. “I think we’ve done that.”
Dr. Wille nods. "We've gotten better, too."