Penny Wheeler: A Proud Triple Gopher

Making Healthcare More Accessible
Penny Wheeler at the Alumni Awards Ceremony

Some might call her a triple threat. But Dr. Penny Wheeler characteristically turns the idiom into something positive and is proud to call herself a “triple Gopher.” A recipient of a 2021 College of Liberal Arts (CLA) Alumni of Notable Achievement Award, Wheeler completed her undergraduate degrees, medical schooling, and residency at the University of Minnesota, and credits those experiences for giving her the solid foundation upon which she has built a sterling, game-changing role in the healthcare industry. 

After serving as an obstetrician/gynecologist for over 20 years, Wheeler assumed several increasingly responsible administrative roles in healthcare. Just recently, Wheeler retired from her position as the chief executive officer of Allina Health. Today, you will find her focused on community service roles on several local nonprofit boards. 

Out of all her significant career roles, Wheeler is most proud of her work to make healthcare more accessible and more holistic. “We were intentional about creating care and support and love for those who had been left out before,” says Wheeler. “Better for those with mental health and addiction disorders, better for those with disabilities, better for those who have suffered because of systemic racism. That is probably what I’m proudest of—that we looked at those who are most vulnerable or most underserved and made it better. We still have a long way to go.” 

During her time at the College of Liberal Arts, Wheeler took advantage of the wide variety of opportunities available in the classroom. In addition to her major in physiology, Wheeler earned a minor in American literature. In this way, Wheeler felt she was able to engage both the technical creative side of her brain. These skills served her well during her career in healthcare. She says, “This service-oriented work of being a physician required both of those [sides of my brain].” 

Wheeler is exceptionally proud to be an alum of UMN. “I tell everybody that I was raised by my parents and by the University of Minnesota,” she says. 

When thinking about current UMN students or recent graduates, Wheeler advises to “find something beyond yourself of which you are passionate. Go deeply into that with love and dedication as hard as you possibly can.” 

Wheeler believes that when you chase after your passions, opportunities will arise that you had never anticipated before. “Go in search of that passion. See what opens for you.”

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