New professorship comes with serendipitous ties and a focus on improving healthcare delivery

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When LaRue Hosmer, a professor emeritus at U-M’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business, began planning his estate he had the University of Michigan School of Nursing (UMSN) in mind. More than 25 years earlier, he had been a landlord to Dana Richardson when she was a LaRue Hosmer UMSN student. Through that connection, Hosmer built lasting friendships with Richardson and her friend and fellow nurse, UMSN master’s alumna Jenny Stimac. They became sounding boards for his ideas on improving health care.

“LaRue was a businessman and a real proponent of nursing,” said Stimac. “He was always interested in making things run more efficiently. He saw the possibilities in nurses, especially advanced practice nurses, and he felt they are the key to improving health care.”

Stimac hugs Hosmer's niece Carol Golly Hosmer asked Stimac, Richardson, and Richardson’s sister, Sunny, to be the trustees of his estate. After he passed away in 2014, they began working with UMSN to craft the details of an endowed professorship that would best honor Hosmer.

After UMSN leadership reviewed candidates that embodied the spirit of Hosmer’s gift, UMSN Professor Christopher Friese, Ph.D., RN, AOCN, FAAN, became the top choice. Friese’s research focuses on understanding and improving healthcare delivery in high-risk settings, with an expertise on cancer.

Friese knew he was under consideration for the position but had not met any of the trustees. Before the decision was finalized and shared with the trustees, there was an unexpected meeting between Friese and the Stimac family.

The unexpected connection

In September 2015, Jenny’s daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. Katie Stimac, then 21-years-old, was admitted to U-M’s University Hospital where Friese was working as a staff nurse. He worked several shifts a month in addition to his role as UMSN faculty.

“We spent 15 hours in the ER,” Jenny said. “When we finally got to the hematology/oncology unit, the first person we met was Chris. He was so reassuring and took time to explain everything without overwhelming us. He did anything he thought could possibly make her stay more comfortable. He was any adjective you could use to describe someone who gave us exactly what we needed at that moment.”

“Day one of an acute leukemia diagnosis is frenetic,” Friese explained. “We have to help patients and families get through that phase and manage those immediate side effects of this uncontrolled cancer. It’s a real privilege for nurses to care for patients during this time.”

Katie’s journey would include a lengthy hospital stay and a double stem cell cord blood transplant. While Friese was not part of her ongoing team, he made a point to check in on her. During one of their conversations, Jenny learned Friese’s primary job was at UMSN.

Katie Stimac may have lost her hair during treatment, but she clearly didn't lose her spirit.“I kept thinking, this guy would be perfect for LaRue’s position,” said Jenny. “In my heart, it felt like he was the right person.”  

“I didn’t know about the connection to Dr. Hosmer until Jenny mentioned being part of the team working on his estate,” explained Friese. “That’s when I put two and two together.”

When all sides put the connections together, there was overwhelming happiness.

“It gave Dana and I goosebumps when everything came together,” said Jenny. “I think the universe put us all in the right spaces.”

In another coincidence, Friese and Hosmer had crossed paths years earlier when Friese attended a lecture given by Hosmer.

“He said in all his years of teaching, he found nurses had the strongest ethical compass,” said Friese. “He has a history of being a great entrepreneur and he saw ways his work could be influential in the nursing community. He never stopped thinking about the next step. He was someone who cherished interdisciplinary work.”

The installation

Jenny teared up as she thanked Friese for caring for her daughter, KatieNamed in honor of LaRue’s mother, Friese was officially installed as the Elizabeth Tome Hosmer Professor on September 20, 2017. Jenny and the Richardson sisters were at the ceremony.

Richardson told the audience, "[LaRue] had strong ideas about the state of the health care world, and often asked my friend Jenny and me, with some degree of exasperation, why nurses weren’t running the show." 

Jenny also shared the story of Katie’s journey. Her voice cracked with emotion as she addressed Friese directly saying, “Thank you for taking care of our little girl.”

Katie was unable to attend the ceremony due to a travel conflict, but her mom reports that after a relapse, she is once again in remission and doing well.

Next steps

Friese brings a wealth of policy knowledge to the role after the recent completion of a one-year Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy fellowship.

Friese and the Hosmer trustees“There’s strong bipartisan interest in improving the health care system so outcomes are better,” he said. “It’s very clear that scientists need to step up to the plate to inform the policy process. My time in Washington has shown me that both Republicans and Democrats pay a great deal of attention to the data we generate. What they need are stronger relationships to better understand and interpret the data. That takes new skills for us as scientists.”

Friese says the professorship is an invaluable tool to help him work on those components and leading the way for rising scientists.

Dean Patricia Hurn presented Friese with a professorship medal “It gives me more time to focus on my research and to mentor my trainees, which may be Ph.D. and DNP students, post-doctoral fellows, or junior faculty to make sure they are conducting research that is improving health care delivery in a way that incorporates the skills that Dr. Hosmer studied through his career.”

“I’m absolutely thrilled that he’s the person,” says Jenny. “Taking that business background and putting it to work in health care, especially nursing, can really help the overall health of our country. I think LaRue would be very proud to know that Chris is carrying on this legacy.”