Nancy Bertelsman is transitioning to a partial retirement after 35 years of service at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. She has served as director of business operations in the Department of Surgery for 21 years. During that time she has overseen the flow of department finances, grants, and purchasing. The impact of her work has resounded throughout every division and section of surgery. Her service has made it possible for Washington University surgeons to focus their attention on excellent, uninterrupted research, education and patient care.
The importance of Bertelsman’s role cannot be overstated. As part of her expansive pool of responsibilities in the department, she handles budgets, quarterly financial reports, contracts with the hospitals, and works in tandem with Mike Aug, senior director finance and administration, and business director Emily Shepherd, to oversee the purchasing and grants administration groups, constantly updating performance as they negotiate contracts.
“Leading business operations for a large academic surgical department is challenging, but incredibly rewarding,” Bertelsman says. “When you see things running smoothly, and a faculty member has access to the resources they need, you know you’ve had a part in making that happen.”
Along the Way
Bertelsman’s first role at Washington University was reconciling bank statements for the university.
“When I started, it took us a month to reconcile the university’s bank statement because it was so massive,” says Bertelsman. “The statement included every transaction; everything from investments, purchasing, and payroll – all these transactions.”
In the years since, Bertelsman has been instrumental in several departmental and university-wide process updates, including major changes to financial systems around contract negotiations and department spending. When the university transitioned to a Workday Financial/HR system, institutional leadership called on Bertelsman to help spearhead the project.
“The change required significant effort. How do you move everything from a system that’s been in place for decades? We also had to train our finance teams on how to utilize this new system. Change always comes with challenges, but we’re seeing the benefits of this transition today. Things are modern and streamlined,” Bertelsman says.
On the Horizon
Bertelsman is transitioning to a part-time role in the Office of Finance, where she worked during the recent Workday transition.
“I’ll be doing special projects with a team I know well, so I’ll be moving into a role that I’m already very familiar with,” she says. It is what she refers to as a “partial retirement.”
“The reason I’m transitioning to a part-time role is so that I’ll have more time for volunteer work, which I’ve been involved with for a long time,” explains Bertelsman. She says that she has been a volunteer in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, but she wants to get involved working with teens who are aging out of the foster care system. “I was involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters for fifteen years before I had my own kids, and I just started getting back into it now that my children are all grown. Taking care my kids as they’ve grown up made me wonder who is helping these kids who have no parents. What could I do to help them?”
Bertelsman hopes to help teens determine their future plans and the steps they will need to take to achieve their goals.
“I want to help them figure out if they want to go to college, work in trade, or help them find jobs, since they don’t have parents for guidance in areas like that,” Bertelsman says. Additionally, she looks forward to volunteering at a small Lutheran school in North City.
A Rewarding Experience
In her time at Washington University, Nancy has been witness to steady growth in faculty along with new techniques and sources of funding. She expresses a sense of pride in her role, while getting to see doctors’ careers develop. “It has been so exciting getting to see new doctors arrive as junior faculty members, and to see them go on to receive highly competitive grants, such as the SPORE (Specialized Programs of Research Excellence) that was awarded to David DeNardo, Ryan Fields, and William Hawkins,” she says.
Another benefit of working at an academic medical center, according to Bertelsman, is the opportunity to receive care from expert faculty when needed. “There’s a huge sense of relief in knowing that if there’s anything wrong, you have the best of the best taking care of you. It gives me peace of mind,” she says.
Bertelsman offers this wisdom to her peers: “Always be open to change and listen to other people’s ideas. Even if there’s a dispute. Most of the time you’ll come up with a better idea than what either party started with. It’s good to stay open to change.”
Bertelsman’s colleagues and coworkers have expressed an outpouring of support and encouragement as she transitions into her new role. They recall her contributions to the department and her dedicated service along the way. “We couldn’t have built such a strong foundation for future success without Nancy’s help throughout the department and at the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery,” says Justin Sacks, MD, MBA, division chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery.
Others show their gratitude for her wisdom and mentorship. “Nancy is a walking encyclopedia with extensive knowledge,” says Tsuyoshi Kaneko, MD, section chief of cardiac surgery, who credits her for helping him navigate the funding channels for his practice with her deep well of wisdom.
Aug, who is inheriting Bertelsman’s responsibilities, also credits her as a mentor: “We’ve worked side-by-side for a long time and I owe much of my hands-on training to Nancy’s conscientious mentorship along the way.”
Jamie Sauerburger, executive director of business affairs for the Department of Surgery, who has worked closely with Bertelsman, says that as a guiding principle, she always thinks to herself: “What would Nancy do? She has the most integrity of any person I know.”
“Having worked alongside Mike Aug and Emily Shepherd’s groups, as I transition out, I am certain that I will be leaving the department’s finances in good, capable hands,” Bertelsman says.
Everyone has expressed congratulations and excitement for her journey as she moves on to the next stage of her life.