Heinemann brings family medicine, rural needs to AMA

Dan Heinemann represents family physicians in his role at the American Medical Association.

But because of where he lives, he represents rural America, too.

Heinemann, M.D., a vice president and medical officer for Sanford Health Network, is serving his second term as delegation chair for the American Academy of Family Physicians delegation to the AMA.

It’s a role he’s passionate about. He’s from a small town, received his undergraduate and medical degrees and did his residency in South Dakota.

“Being part of this helps me bring back issues of some national importance to what we do locally,” Heinemann, 63, says. “You get a different perspective to what regulatory things affect small practices.”

The AMA represents about a quarter million physicians in all specialties in the United States. Serving within the organization is the House of Delegates, charged with establishing policy on health, medical and governance matters. Some delegates represent states while others represent specialties. Heinemann, who is in his second term as chairman of the delegation, represents family medicine, which also makes up the bulk of providers in South Dakota.

That means he can offer a rural, regional and national perspective on the board and to his colleagues in the state. This year, the American Academy of Family Physicians also hopes to have a member elected to the AMA Board of Trustees. If that happens, it will be the first time.

“It helps South Dakota get an extra voice at the AMA house,” Heinemann says. “And it gets family medicine a voice.”

When it comes to showing other providers what it means to practice in rural America, that matters.

“We rely heavily on our partnerships with advance practices, which is very different than in other parts of the country,” Heinemann says of family practice doctors in smaller communities. “There are small practices in New York City with one or two doctors, and that’s very different than a small practice in Tracy, Minnesota.”

Heinemann pauses for a moment. He grew up on a dairy farm in Dell Rapids, South Dakota, and built a practice in Canton, South Dakota.

“I’m a positive statistic. I’m from a small town and did my undergrad, medical school and residency and then stayed,” he says, noting that he and a partner began a practice in Canton and operated it for two decades. “People don’t do that anymore. We jumped into the deep end of the pool.”

But from that, and his more recent work with Sanford Health, he’s watched as the role of family physicians has ebbed and flowed over the years. Primary care doctors used to make up the bulk of physicians, and now they make up less than half.

“We just don’t have enough primary care,” Heinemann says, adding that more specialized jobs can sometimes seem more sophisticated. “It takes a pretty smart person to do a variety of things where you don’t have a lot of immediate support.”

But beyond that, he says the practice – and doing it in rural America – is rewarding.

“Patients are great to partner with,” Heinemann says. “People in the AMA are surprised by the clinicians they meet out here – how bright and active and committed to their communities they are.”

And for patients, it matters to shine a light on the needs and opportunities in the Midwest.

“I think our patients should care that someone is at the table who can bring their needs to the overall discussion,” Heinemann says. “It’s great.”

To learn more:

The American Medical Association

The AMA represents physicians across all practices in the United States. It began in 1847 and works to shape policy and recognize and serve the needs of patients and physicians. Nearly a quarter million physicians are members.

The American Academy of Family Physicians

Founded in 1947, the AAFP is one of the largest