The Dynamic Duo

Lifetime Louisvillians Drs. Greg and Linda Gleis carve complementary paths to ever-evolving careers in orthopedics and physical medicine and rehab

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LOUISVILLE Louisville may be Kentucky’s largest city, but with a web of hometown connections, it is a place where the six degrees of separation rule rarely needs more than two degrees to ring true. When you ask a native Louisvillian, “Where did you go to school?” the question more often refers to high school than college.

Imagine then, the serendipity of two lifetime Louisvillians who have benefitted from all the hometown metropolis has to offer. Their story sounds like a romantic comedy. They met on a blind date in high school – he was at St. Xavier and she at Assumption. They married before their senior year in college – he at the University of Louisville (UofL) and she at Bellarmine University – and attended medical school together at UofL. Both went on to have successful medical careers in complementary specialties – his in orthopedics and hers in physical medicine and rehabilitation – in addition to raising four children together.

This is the story of Drs. Gregory and Linda Gleis. Imagine how many connections they have made and how many lives they have touched along the way…

Med school Companions

Greg’s career path was set from a young age. “I knew I wanted to do orthopedics,” he says. “I played football through the Catholic system in grade school and high school and knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Linda’s path was not as decidedly direct. Initially she studied medical technology at Bellarmine, but the courses were the same as pre-med. During the rotations, she was encouraged to think about becoming a physician, and eventually she thought, why not become a doctor?

The summer before their junior year of med school, they both got internships at Frazier Rehab Institute under Dr. Thomas Kelly. “That’s when I fell in love with rehab because it incorporates orthopedics, neurology, psychology, and internal medicine,” says Linda. “It was just so dynamic and holistic from my perspective.”

Continued Career Convergence

Following his residency, Greg became an attending at University Hospital, which had opened its doors in May 1983. There he saw a large volume of trauma cases, but realized his main interest was the spine. Dr. David Seligson, then chief of Orthopedics at UofL, arranged for Greg to go to New Orleans and complete a spine fellowship at St. Charles Hospital with Dr. Henry LaRocca, editor of the medical journal Spine.

Around the same time, Linda began practicing at Frazier upon completion of her residency. Three years later, in 1985, her career began to take giant leaps. She and her partners Dr. David Watkins and Dr. John Shaw started a private practice group called Rehabilitation Associates. Additionally, she became director of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation residency training program for Frazier, which she would run for 10 years, and became the chief of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Louisville VA Medical Center.

In 1986, Linda and Greg’s career paths converged at the VA when Greg left the trauma service at University to become chief of Orthopedics at the VA, while still maintaining his private practice.

Tapping the Spine

When Greg was training in New Orleans, he developed an interest in chronic spine problems. “That’s what interested me – the people who don’t get well,” he says. In the late 80s, he visited a spine rehab clinic in Texas developed by Dr. Tom Mayer because he was drawn to the concept of “optimizing the abilities people had.”

In 1990, Greg split off from Orthopedic Associates with Dr. John Johnson and Dr. Dick Holt to open his own spine rehab clinic. “They were doing lots of spine surgery, and I was interested in the non-operative spine parts; so I felt that would be a good patient flow,” Greg says.

He remained chief of Orthopedics at the VA until 1995, when he “decided to quit trying to do both things and concentrate in private practice.”

In 1998, Greg closed the underperforming spine rehab clinic and joined Ellis & Badenhausen Orthopaedics. “Since I was the only person in the group interested in seeing people with back pain, the other orthopedic surgeons were glad to divert that population towards me, and I was happy to see them,” he says.

Evolution of a Second Act

Linda advises that flexibility is one of the keys to longevity in a medical career. For Greg, this has proved to be true, as his interest in chronic cases would hold the key to the second act of his career.

“Going back to 1988 was the first time I saw somebody in a different perspective,” says Greg. It was one workers’ compensation case that soon led to more. “Pretty soon, half of my daytime work [at Ellis & Badenhausen] was seeing workers’ compensation difficult cases, the cases that had not succeeded with normal treatment,” he says.

Greg became an advocate for workers’ comp as well, authoring an article for the Journal of the KMA on cost analysis and getting involved with the Department of Workers Claims.

Greg also became a high school team doctor for several schools, such as Manual High School and Trinity. A graduate of St. X, his allegiance was always torn, but he focused on taking care of the kids.

In 2004, Greg retired from Ellis & Badenhausen to concentrate solely on independent medical exams (IMEs). Today he does four examinations a week, but he’s still working 50–60 hours, says Linda, when all the paperwork is factored in.

“I don’t need to read autobiographies,” says Greg with a smile. “I read people’s medical stories for work.”

Greg is also active on the board of directors of Kids’ Chance, an organization that raises scholarship money for high school students going on to college or vocational school.

Leading the Way in Organized Medicine and Education

One of Linda’s legacies at Frazier was initiating specialized service line programs that are now the institute’s hallmark. “At Frazier, initially everything was general rehab. Early on we assisted in making a focus for traumatic brain injury and spinal cord, and then stroke,” says Linda.

As if being in private practice, a director of a residency program, and service line chief at the VA, not to mention a mother of three small children at the time, were not enough, “When I was early running the residency program, I got involved with organized medicine, with the Greater Louisville (then Jefferson County) Medical Society (GLMS),” says Linda. Dr. Ken Peters recruited her to run for Secretary-Treasurer in an effort to get more women on the board. She agreed in order to further an agenda of accessibility for people with physical limitations, shortly before the Americans with Disabilities Act passed.

Two years later, Peters encouraged Linda to run for GLMS president. She agreed and won the election and subsequently became the first woman president of the GLMS in 1991. During that time she also had her fourth child and remembers bringing the baby to board meetings before she was old enough to go to daycare, saying, “Hey, it was the 90s.”

Linda utilized her platform as president to raise awareness of a topic that was still relatively hush-hush back then – domestic violence. “That year my whole focus was on domestic violence and the physician’s role and how you can help protect the patient,” she says.

When Linda finished her presidential term with the GLMS, Peters once again encouraged her to run – this time for Secretary-Treasurer of the Kentucky Medical Association (KMA), a position she has held since 1999.

Linda is also involved with the GLMS Foundation. As PM&R residency director for a decade, Linda has certainly influenced the career path of many physicians, and her educational legacy continues in her work to further the Foundation’s scholarship initiative. “I’ve always had a focus on the power of education to change people’s lives,” she says. Linda currently chairs the scholarship committee for the GLMS Foundation, which awards $20,000 each year for tuition assistance for four to five U of L medical students.

In 2005, she phased out her private practice, and in November 2012 she retired as service chief of the VA. However, she continues to cover clinics at the VA as a fee-based physician.

Juggling Act

The 1980s and early 1990s were a particularly hectic time for the couple, who somehow balanced demanding careers and raising a young family. Cheerios, fast food, laughter, and faith seem to be part of their success formula.

Linda often worked late and had to round at two hospitals, which meant leaving the house by 6 a.m. Left with evening bedtime rituals and daycare drop-off before 7 am, “Greg would have our three sons sleep in whatever there were wearing the next day, and they’d get up, grab their bags of cheerios and milk, and drive to daycare,” she says. “Our kids joked, ‘We had cheerios for breakfast and supper. The only different meal we had was at daycare.’” Greg adds, “There was a lot of fast food.”

Greg recalls the days before cell phones when his wife would work late on a project. “When Linda starts working, she’s in the zone. She doesn’t think about calling and saying I’m going to be late. So I just went to bed, hoping she’d come home,” says Greg. On one occasion, after pulling an all-nighter to prepare for a residency accreditation review, Linda finally returned home in the morning, but just to change clothes and return to work for a breakfast meeting.

Greg and Linda agree that the students coming out of medical school today have a different mindset. “From the very beginning they want to make sure they have balance in their lives. Whereas in our generation, those first years, it was very time consuming,” says Linda. With over half of today’s physicians being employed by health systems, there is a dramatic difference from the days when physicians spent their first two years working to become a partner in a practice.

When asked about today’s health care challenges, Linda says, “For our age group, we’re seeing more people retire early because there is so much uncertainty and you get frustrated because you feel like patient care is being compromised sometimes … I think our students coming out now will be a little better prepared for that aspect because they’re training during that time.”

Health care is changing in Louisville, in Kentucky, and across the nation, but some things remain the same. The Gleis’ are a testament that the values of dedication, cooperation, teamwork, and humor will always be part of a successful career formula and that adaptability and service to the community can hold the key to extending your career.

Drs. Greg and Linda Gleis are two outstanding individual physicians who together form an incredible team for their own family, for service to the medical profession, and their community. Linda was the GLMs president in 1991–92. She brought a new external focus, urging physicians to network with non-medical groups and organizations. She also was the society’s first female president.Greg also has been active in the GLMs and has been a delegate to the KMA for many years. He also handled many family obligations to allow Linda to attend to her association duties.—LELAN WOODMANSEE, CAE, executive director of the Greater Louisville Medical Society

What Greg brought to the practice were things we hadn’t done before … He was really highly regarded by insurance companies and workers’ compensation and still is.— TOM STELTENKAMP, ATC, Administrator for Ellis & Badenhausen Orthopaedics

I was a medical student at UofL when Linda was residency program director around 1990. She was a big influence on me going into the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation … A lot of residents who are now in practice can look back on their training and see Linda Gleis as one of their primary mentors during their residency training and look at her as a model physician in our field.—DARRYL L. KAELIN, MD, medical director of Frazier Rehab Institute and chief of the division of Physical Medicine & Rehab for UofL

The legacy of Dr. Linda Gleis at the UofL School of Medicine is a long one, from earning her degree and completing her residency, to serving on faculty and gratis faculty for more than 30 years. She established a solid foundation for our Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation residency program, both by expanding the program, as well as solidifying our relationship with what is now Frazier Rehab Institute. Her hands-on work, as well as all those who have come after her, have helped countless people in Louisville and beyond.—TONI GANZEL, MD, dean of the Uofl School of Medicine