Jeremy Cauwels, MD, FACP, FHM

By: Celine Robins

Dr. Jeremy Cauwels

Award for Early Achievement

Jeremy Cauwels’ (02MD) leadership and advocacy have redefined the patient experience at Sanford Health System, the nation’s largest rural nonprofit health care system. He was recognized as a leader early in his career when, after completing his internal medicine residency at the University of Kansas Medical School in 2005, he was selected to lead the program the following year. In 2014, he became the director of the hospitalist program at Sanford, where he doubled the size of the program. Now as chief physician at Sanford, his colleagues look to him as a role model of patient-focused care.

“If I look at the accomplishments in my career, one of the things that the University of Iowa taught me was really the importance of putting the patient at the center of all the work that we do,” he says. 

In 2019, Cauwels implemented the Sanford Accountability for Excellence (SAFE) initiative with the goal of pushing Sanford to a high standard of reliability and patient safety. The program has been completed by 37,000 Sanford employees and reduced serious safety events by 40%.  

Cauwels’ commitment to Sanford’s patients has also informed the system’s COVID-19 response. He has prioritized public communication about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy and pushed systemic strategies to increase virtual care options, address supply chain issues, enhance testing capabilities, and implement new therapies. Rural areas often have higher rates of vaccine hesitancy, and Cauwels says the most critical factor when addressing this issue is making one-on-one education and guidance available for as many patients as possible.

“If you actually have an opportunity to sit down next to a patient and talk them through their decision- making, many, many of them will come to the thought that vaccination is the right thing to do to keep them safe,” he says. “But I think what we’ve also seen is that without that conversation, given the other places they can get information—be it social media, be it standard media, be it otherwise—the controversy that’s created makes a lot of people less convinced that vaccination is a way to move forward.” 


Cauwels is optimistic about how the recent increase in virtual care options will increase health care access and efficiency. He proudly recalls the story of a teen who needed to see a child psychiatrist at Sanford. The young patient lived four hours away from the nearest clinic, and their single mother was concerned that she would have to take a day off work to transport him to his appointments. The expanded availability of telehealth at Sanford allowed the patient to receive care in just a few days, without the need to travel to the clinic. 

“Digital care has to start a revolution,” Cauwels says. “I think improving that access to care and getting it to the people that need it, when they need it, should be not only the biggest revolution in health care but should be the best one we’ve had in a lot of years.”