The 2022 College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery Alumnus of the Year: Robert Greenhagen, D.P.M.’08

When DMU first asked Robert Greenhagen, D.P.M.’08, to serve as a preceptor for students in the College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery (CPMS), in 2014, he’d been out of residency for just a few years.  “I was used to having other students around,” he says.

He’s been a steadfast and enthusiastic preceptor ever since. Co-owner of the Foot and Ankle Center of Nebraska and Iowa, he is an adjunct clinical instructor for CPMS and served as the director of the Midwest Foot and Ankle Fellowship in limb salvage and advanced foot and ankle reconstruction.

“Having students at our clinic has a lot of mutual benefits. It makes you stay up in your game, because young people always ask questions. That pushes quality and innovation,” he says. “We mentor students to not only be academically and clinically successful, but also to be able to work in a team.”

Greenhagen may be able to relate to the uncertainties of youth in part because of his own. He changed his major seven times at Briar Cliff University in his first two years.

“Thankfully, those changes covered my gen-ed requirements.  My poor advisor had to sit me down and tell me it was time to focus on more than just my social life,” he says. “Still full of uncertainty, I choose to return my original major, pre-med, but out of default more than desire.”

He eventually graduated from Briar Cliff with a bachelor of science degree in biology. After taking a year off of school, he took the advice of his childhood friend, Patrick Nelson, D.P.M.’09, to consider podiatric medicine. He shadowed Robert Hilkemann, D.P.M., at his Omaha, NE, clinic, where Nelson’s mother, Carol, worked as a nurse. After completing his residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in 2011, Greenhagen returned to Hilkemann’s clinic, soon becoming a partner. In 2014, Greenhagen recruited Nelson to the practice. That allowed Hilkemann to retire and turn to a career in politics while fulfilling Nelson and Greenhagen’ s life-long dream.

“Talent and trust are two things that are underappreciated in business. I knew that with Dr. Nelson, I got both, and with him we could build something great,” Greenhagen says.

The Foot and Ankle Center of Nebraska and Iowa has since expanded with additional podiatric physicians and locations in Omaha, Papillion and Fremont, NE, and Council Bluffs, IA. While the growth of the practice is a matter of pride for Greenhagen, his real sense of pride is the success of the students who have rotated in the practice. Recently, Jorge Amaro, D.P.M.’19, who rotated with Greenhagen in 2017, joined the Foot and Ankle Center team.

“I take so much joy in seeing these women and men grow into amazing surgeons; to have one come back and join the team is even better. It gives all of our future students proof that the journey is worth the sacrifice,” Greenhagen says.

Past president of the Nebraska Podiatric Medical Association, Greenhagen has served on committees for the American Board of Podiatric Medicine, American Society of Podiatric Surgeons and the Nebraska Podiatric Medical Association. He was the first medical director of the Fit Feet Program for Nebraska’s Special Olympics. He is a diplomate of the American Board of Podiatric Medicine and the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. His passion for podiatry is also reflected in his numerous lectures, both regional and national, and the multiple publications in podiatric journals and texts.

He and his team recently began seeing patients at the Omaha Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center. In 2017, the Omaha VA had lost both of its podiatric providers so had begun sending patients to local podiatric offices for care. After seeing a number of veterans, Greenhagen became frustrated with the restrictions placed off-site care. He asked the VA administration if he could bring the Foot and Ankle Center of Nebraska and Iowa to the VA.

“Previously, our hands were so bound caring for these veterans and active-duty personnel, so I asked whether we could see them at the VA to ensure quality of care,” he says. “Now it’s the second busiest clinic at the Omaha VA.”

Greenhagen serves as the section chief of the department of podiatric surgery and the department of wound care at the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System and is co-chair of the podiatry department of VISN 23: VA Midwest Health Care Network, which serves more than 440,000 enrolled veterans in 10 midwestern states. He says he enjoys serving at the VA because the camaraderie and interactions among staff and patients are similar to those at his practice. With his continued focus on education, he hopes to have students rotate with him at the VA beginning next year.

“Interacting with the veterans is awesome, like interacting with students,” he says. “They bring an outlook that constantly challenges your perspective.”

Greenhagen credits his family, especially an “amazing wife,” Nicole, for his success.  They have four children, Robert, Jeffrey, Nicholas and Julia.

 He says he looks forward to what the future will bring: “I’m not sure what will be next. From my perspective, the journey is much more about the people I’m with than the place that we are going.”

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