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Physician Spotlight Wendell Hoffman MD

Learn more about Wendell Hoffman, the Sanford Health Patient Safety Officer.

Hometown: Yorkton, Saskatchewan

Medical School: University of South Dakota

Residency: Mayo Clinic

Best Twins Player: Harmon Killebrew

What you’re reading: Walk the Walk by Alan Deutschman

Favorite movie: The Fugitive and Lord of the Rings

Favorite pastime: Spending time with family

In addition to your practice, you’re also the Sanford Health Patient Safety Officer.

There are a myriad of national organizations now focused on patient safety. At Sanford, we have several safety officers in certain areas, and I was asked to lead that charge. In 2009, I took on more full-time responsibilities with that role. So, I still see patients a few days a month and also share call with my infectious disease partners. I try to cover their outpatient practice when one of them happens to be out of town as well. Patient safety should be the root of healthcare delivery. Care should do no harm.

It’s been a very busy 2009 and 2010.

June 11, 2009 the World Health Organization declared a pandemic caused by H1N1, which simply means there was a new, rapidly spreading virus to which fewer people in the population had immunity. I worked closely with a team of individuals who came together after the first cases were reported. We met twice a week for many months to develop a response to the pandemic. This virus group is extremely unstable, it constantly changes. In fact, it’s fair to say that it’s not a virus but a group of viruses. With that kind of uncertainty, then, as a planner you always have to plan for a worst case scenario. That sometimes sends confusing messages to the public because on the one hand you are planning for the worst case scenario, and on the other hand you don’t want to unduly alarm so it’s walking a fine balance, which I think overall we have done a good job. I’m very proud of the mammoth effort that involved hundreds of Sanford staff. We learned a lot about ourselves in the process.

If you were a virus, what would you be?

They are actually my enemies. Now, if you were to ask me which vaccine I would be, now there are some heroes, like small pox, polio and measles. If I were an antibiotic, I would be penicillin, plain old penicillin. It has the greatest characteristics of the best antibiotic. It’s highly effective against the bacteria and it opened up the era of antibiotics so it’s historically very important. It was a game-changer when penicillin was first used in the early 1940s.

What do you like to do in your free time?

My favorite hobby is my family. As a family, we fell back in love with the Minnesota Twins a few years ago. This last year, we got these amazing tickets right behind the Twins dugout on the last game of the season when they won the central division and Joe Mauer won the batting title. I think reading is a big passion that I have, as well.

Who do you think is the best Twins player?

Ever? There’s no comparison — Harmon Killebrew. He was my boyhood hero. I remember sitting in the old Metropolitan Stadium and watching him hit a 3-run homer off Sam McDowell from the Cleveland Indians. The Twins were down five to nothing and everybody was depressed. Killebrew gets up, bottom of the ninth, two people on, two outs, and he smacks this line drive down the left field line and you walked away from that game being totally satisfied even though they lost. What a guy!

What is your philosophy of care?

My philosophy of care is to focus on the reason I went into medicine. I think by and large that is why people go into medicine — they want to help. Medicine is so complex because it brings all the best and worst of humanity together. It is an opportunity to really make a difference in people’s lives. Because it’s human beings taking care of human beings, it is deeply meaningful because of that profoundly human experience that we engage. Thus, improving the human condition is a great overarching goal. We can make a difference.

To learn more about Dr. Hoffman, visit