Triumph and Triage
Deb Lonzer ’86 coaches other physicians facing challenges
by Michael Agresta
Deb Lonzer ’86 attributes her decision to attend Bucknell — and much of her subsequent course in life — to four words of advice she received during her senior year of high school in small-town Hazleton, Pa.: “Don’t sell yourself short.” After hearing that advice, Lonzer, who had accepted admission to a state school, decided to attend Bucknell instead. “I realized that the whole reason I had turned Bucknell down was that it scared me,” Lonzer says. “I was afraid I would fail.”

Lonzer’s fears turned out to be misplaced. After earning a B.S. in biology, then an M.D. from Penn State, she became a pediatrician and hospital executive with the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic (CC). After years of building up CC’s pediatric operations in suburban Cleveland, Lonzer was elected president of the medical staff of CC and, in 2010, to a five-year term on CC’s board of governors at a time when few women were on the board.

In 2013, however, Lonzer’s career was disrupted by medical disability involving chronic spinal pain. Forced to step back from her high-pressure role at CC, she retooled her practice around telemedicine and career coaching. “It was really hard,” Lonzer says. “It took a while for me to not be angry or resentful and go through all the stages of grief.”

Deb Lonzer didn’t let a medical disability end her career.
Deb Lonzer didn’t let a medical disability end her career.
Now, as the founder of Career Triage, MD, a consultancy that works mostly with female physicians, Lonzer guides others who are facing challenges and in danger of selling themselves short.

“It gives me perspective that there’s not one perfect job and that we don’t only have one set of skills,” Lonzer says. “It takes a real crisis to make you sit back and think, ‘OK, that’s what I did, but that’s not who I am.’ Sometimes we think of our jobs as who we are, but we can be so much more.”