When California native James D. Woodburn transferred from the University of California, Los Angeles to UW-Madison, he only intended to stay for a year. More than 30 years later, Woodburn is still in the Midwest, where he has become an expert in healthcare management as the president of Woodburn Health Consulting LLC, based in Deephaven, Minnesota. “There’s a certain spirit and foundation of stability in the Midwest,” he says.
Although he’s referencing the region’s environment and culture, there’s also a familial foundation: Woodburn is a fourth-generation Badger; his great-grandfather and grandfather taught here. The latter was James G. Woodburn, professor and chair of civil engineering. Woodburn’s grandmother, Donnie, earned an economics degree from UW-Madison, while his father (James D. Woodburn Sr.) and uncle (Robert Woodburn) both earned degrees in engineering.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from UW-Madison in 1977, Woodburn went to medical school in hopes of becoming a better engineer. “I found a translational issue between engineering and physicians, and I went to learn the lingo,” he says. “It was never my game plan to be a doctor.”
However, Woodburn discovered a passion for emergency medicine. He received his master’s in biomedical engineering and doctor of medicine from UW-Madison in 1981 and 1984, respectively, and became the first emergency medicine fellow at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After 10 years as a practicing physician, Woodburn shifted his career to consulting to ensure plenty of quality time with his wife, Leigh, and their children, Stina and Jimmy. With a partner, he began advising high-tech companies and agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, on occupational and environmental health issues.
In 1993, Woodburn joined Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, where he developed managed care and web-based care strategies. The role allowed him to transition from a healthcare perspective of serving one patient at a time to developing systems that help millions nationwide. In 2005, Woodburn spearheaded the growth of MinuteClinic, a system of clinics in grocery and department stores that provides basic care in 30-minute appointments. Woodburn helped the system expand from just a handful of clinics to 250 clinics staffed by more than 2,000 nurse practitioners.
He has served on the board of directors for many medical startups. In January 2011, he became the chief medical officer at Applied Pathways, focusing on providing strategic guidance to accelerate quality improvement and consumer-centered systems change.