On any given day, Kathryn Kinner Hufmeyer, MD, is wearing a memento of her years teaching around her neck. On Hufmeyer’s last day at Bishop Dunne Catholic High School over fifteen years ago, one of her honors science students gave her a parting gift—the stethoscope has been with Hufmeyer ever since.
“I will never forget my inspiration for teaching and patient care,” she said.
She uses the gift daily, a wonderful reminder of how her time in a Catholic school helps her thrive in a busy medical career.
Currently, Hufmeyer is a primary care physician with the Northwestern Medical Group, an instructor in the Feinberg School of Medicine, and the co-director of a curricular program for medical students focused on evidence-based methods and principles.
Not only does Hufmeyer teach and supervise doctors-in-training directly—a clear connection to her time in the classroom—she also develops and evaluates the program’s curricula. She said one of the projects on her table right now is intended to teach third-year students how to use new electronic documentation systems responsibly and effectively. Every teacher knows the perennial importance of well organized information, and medical instructors are no exception.
Hufmeyer said that, just as when she was an ACE Teacher, she wears many hats throughout the day. As a soccer coach, a medical resident, a professional teacher, a supervisor, a program director, and a physician, she has impacted thousands of lives.
“I love being a clinician, an educator, and a researcher. No day at work is ever exactly the same, and none of it would have been possible without my experience in ACE.”
Like Hufmeyer, Nicole Shirilla, MD, a member of ACE 7, has filled many roles since graduating from the program. After teaching theology in Louisiana, she filmed a documentary in Sri Lanka, conducted research at Padre Pio’s hospital in Italy, studied surgical robotics in Dublin, visited with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in India, and traveled through Uganda and Rwanda. Shirilla recently traveled to Haiti to provide humanitarian aid with the St. Luke Foundation.
Reflecting on her wealth of experiences, Shirilla said that she has been constantly surprised by God’s plan for her life.
“I don’t see any of my journey as a side-track,” Shirilla said. “I constantly see each part as having a unifying mission.”
The desire to serve others is what first drew Shirilla to teaching and what ultimately led to her vocation as a physician.
“It’s always before me that I’m taking care of someone who is Christ in disguise, from my Baton Rouge students to my current patients.”
ACE’s mission to improve the quality and accessibility of Catholic education is informed by an underlying belief in the dignity of every human person. Like Shirilla and Hufmeyer, Sean Gaffney, a member of ACE 16, was also driven to the world of healthcare by this unifying mission.
“I discovered how much I love working one-on-one with people [in ACE], hearing their stories, and walking with them through both suffering and joy,” he said.
As a teacher, he was present with his students, parents, administrators, fellow teachers, and peers on the best of days and the worst of days, and everything in between. Now, in medical school at the University of Chicago, Gaffney said that compassionate presence is the heart of the mission for both educators and healthcare professionals.
Passionate and service-oriented people are often tempted to measure their impact by their observable results, but these three know that relationships are essential.
During the summer between Gaffney’s two years of teaching, he traveled to Texas for a student’s quinceañera. Sitting in the church, waiting for the service to begin, he had doubts.
“I felt like I was about to fall into a never-ending cycle of questioning my role and impact as a teacher,” he said. “Just then, the student walked into the church and shouted out, ‘Mr. Gaffney.’
“As she ran up in her quinceañera dress to give me the biggest hug, it became abundantly clear that it mattered to her that I was her teacher. I never questioned the importance of my role as a teacher after that day.”
Gaffney, Shirilla, and Hufmeyer exhibit many traits typical of ACE Teachers: leadership, faith, reflection, a commitment to service, and a sense of mission. Their years as Catholic school teachers have informed their vocation to serve those entrusted to their care.