By Denise Mann

Just 10 short days after US President George W. Bush used the term “axis of evil” in his State of the Union address, St Paul, Minn plastic surgeon Warren Schubert, MD, was granted access to Iran so he could teach residents about complex facial trauma and reconstruction.

This didn’t happen overnight, but his assistant, LuAnn Zeilinger, was persistent. “She called every single day and followed up on each point, making sure that the powers that be had received all needed documentation and logged it into their systems correctly,” recalls Schubert, the Chair, Department of Plastic & Hand Surgery at Regions Hospital.

And this attention to detail and tenacity are two of the reasons that Zeilinger, now the Lead Specialty Administrative Assistant for Plastic & Hand Surgery, has become so invaluable to the practice. It’s also why she was a shoe-in for the American Society of Plastic Surgery Professionals (ASPSP) 2015 Member of the Year award.

The award, presented at the 2015 ASPSP educational meeting in Boston, comes with a cash prize of $1,000 and a scholarship to attend the 2016 ASPSP educational meeting, which is supported by CareCredit. A newly formed group, ASPSP represents the Association of Plastic Surgery Assistants (APSA) and the American Society of Plastic Surgery Administrators (ASPSA).

“She’s phenomenal. The whole department depends on her,” gushes Schubert, who nominated her for the award.

She has been with Regions Hospital for nearly 40 years, and currently leads a team of four administrative assistants at the University of Minnesota-affiliated plastic surgery training program. Her team supports 10 full-time faculty members and eight physician extenders. Zeilinger started working in the Department of Surgery and went on to help form the Department of Plastic & Hand Surgery. This group has trained 34 plastic surgeons and numerous hand fellows since its inception.

The Secret to Her Success

“Organization is ‘a No 1,’?” she says when asked what it takes to get things done at such a large institution as Regions Hospital, which is part of a bigger integrated healthcare system.

Follow-through counts, too. “If I ask for something and don’t get it, it frustrates me, and eventually I will just do it myself,” she says.

She doesn’t always take someone’s word that they have completed a task, either. She will check and recheck that things are done and done correctly—this may involve camping out in the speaker-ready room to make sure that all of her surgeon’s slides are loaded properly before a talk. She has organized and joined the team on international cleft lip medical missions, too.

And in all the years, her enthusiasm for what she does hasn’t waned. Zeilinger loves what she does and who she does it for, and will always go the extra yard. “He needed to get to Iran, and to me, this was part of the job,” she says of Schubert’s trip to the Middle East in 2002.

Her day-to-day involves scheduling for at least two surgeons. She also peruses the schedule to see who is coming in and why. For example, if a breast cancer patient is coming for a reconstruction consult, she loops in a general surgeon as well to make sure that everything is in order should the patient schedule the procedure.

Zeilinger also keeps the fellows and residents in line, showing them the ropes and helping them navigate the bureaucracy. “They are part of the schedule, especially for inpatient procedures,” she says. “They also travel to conferences, and I will help talk them through the budgeting and approval process for these meetings.”

As one former resident put it after hearing of her award, “You have taught more residents how to be a good plastic surgeon than any attending in our program. I can certainly attest to just how much you have nurtured our careers even before a program existed. This is well-deserved.”

Well-deserved, indeed. PSP congratulates LuAnn Zeilinger!

Denise Mann is the editor of Plastic Surgery Practice. She can be reached at [email protected].