Tina Sauerhammer, M.D., found world-wide acclaim in the operating room, then happiness in Green Bay
A phoenix, by definition, rises. Reaching among the highest heights of UW-Green Bay achievers is Tina Sauerhammer, M.D. Today, 20 years after a meteoric rise as a student, physician, celebrity and surgeon, Dr. Sauerhammer has turned her focus to the people and places she again calls home. She is setting her sights on impacting the overall health of Green Bay and the northeast Wisconsin region by investing in the brainpower of people in under-served communities.
In her leadership position on the UW-Green Bay Council of Trustees, she works with other community leaders to advise University leadership on how to best serve the region. “I’ve been on the council for almost ten years. Now there are a lot of other issues in our community that have become more prominent,” she remarks. “We advocate for issues like social justice and mental health awareness.”
“I think the world’s changed though, too, after the pandemic,” she notes. “You really have to be able to shift direction depending on circumstances. Like making higher education available to under-served communities where attending college is rarely thought of as an option.”
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without education,” Dr. Saurhammer reflects. “I was a first-generation college graduate, just like 50% of our current students.”
Her career is the stuff of legends—youngest graduate ever at both UW-Green Bay and the University of Wisconsin Medical School. Then on to prestigious fellowships and residencies—while also finding time to compete and win Miss Wisconsin and finish 2nd runner-up in the Miss America competition. She was a member of the medical team to perform the first successful full-face transplant. She traveled the world to provide restorative and reconstructive pediatric surgeries to children in need and was named co-director of burn services with Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. All before the age of 35.
Today, in her medical practice, Dr. Sauerhammer helps women recovering from breast cancer and children with disabilities as one of few female private practice plastic surgeons in Northeast Wisconsin and the area’s first fellowship-trained pediatric plastic reconstructive surgeon. “Breast reconstruction after surgery is a very big part of my practice,” she said. “And pediatric plastic surgery is still a small part of my practice.”
“I’ve always known I wanted to be a physician since I was two years old. I don’t know why.”
What Dr. Saurhammer did have was a goal, a vision and a turbo-charged abundance of ambition. As she puts it—“When I set a goal, I do everything possible to achieve it.” And today her goal is to help empower all those other young dreamers out there with big visions in search of a plan.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
My three-year-old daughter! And knowing that my patients are depending on me.
What’s the last lesson life taught you?
Recently, I went through one of the most difficult times of my life, personally. I learned that I have to take care of myself before I can take care of others. Providing care for my patients is very important; I have to be at the top of my game. I need to be completely focused on them. But to do so, I need to take the time to take care of myself.
How has education opened doors for you?
I wouldn’t be where I am today without education. My dad worked in a paper mill, my mom was a seamstress. Education was always very, very important.
How has education leveled the playing field?
I was a first-generation college student. I came from a blue-collar family and paid for my education myself. There are a lot more scholarships available now than back then. I saved nearly every penny I received since I was young.
What do you think are higher education’s biggest challenges?
Access and the application process. It can be very intimidating. It’s also kind of a mindset that people are raised to think they’re not able to go to college. They’ve never envisioned themselves going to college. It’s important that children know that any goal they set, they can achieve.
At UW-Green Bay, every person has the power to Rise. No matter who you are, where you’re from, or what you want to be. Rise Stories feature people from all walks of life who are blazing a brighter future for our region.