Dr. Barbara Horner-Ibler '80 delivered the keynote address to Carroll University’s Class of 2020 during a virtual Commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 9, 2020. She also received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at the event.
A 1980 Carroll graduate, Dr. Horner-Ibler is a well-known physician and one of the founders of Bread of Healing Clinic, which provides free, high-quality medical, dental and behavioral health care to approximately 2,000 uninsured patients a year. Started in 2000, it now has three locations in Milwaukee.
She shares in this Q & A story by Sabrina Tartaglia '21 details about her work, her memories of her own Commencement at Carroll, and how her keynote message changed for graduates now living in the middle of a pandemic. In the end, she said, Carroll has trained us all for life's adjustments and the Class of 2020 is "prepared for whatever life brings."
Can you tell me a little bit about the Bread of Healing Clinic, and how you got involved with it?
Bread of Healing is a free medical clinic giving people without health insurance access to quality healthcare. It opened in 2000 with one nurse (Rick Cesar), one doctor (me) and another physician advisor (Tom Jackson). In 2000, we began in one clinic room, operating one afternoon per week and saw about 150 patients overall. In 2020, we now have about 30 physician volunteers and 30 other medical volunteers, with 13 exam rooms in three different sites. We see about 1,800 different patients per year. Most of our patients are working and are not eligible for Badger Care in Wisconsin, though some are eligible for policies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However, we have found even though some can afford the policy itself, many cannot afford the related deductibles and co-pays associated with the plan.
Could you please share with me a little background on your work and talk about your experience of working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Our neighborhood (Lindsey Heights) and adjacent neighborhood (Sherman Park) have been two of the hardest hit areas of Milwaukee with the COVID-19 virus. It was a struggle when it first hit as as we were unable to test our patients until 7 weeks into Wisconsin’s stay-at-home orders, when we finally received all the necessary supplies for testing. As a medical provider, we must know who has the virus to identify who is transmitting it and who is vulnerable to infection.
Our clinic has separated patients into two categories: those with respiratory symptoms and those without. Clients enter at two separate doors and are greeted by a screener to triage services. There has been frustration in that there is no coordinated effort to bring supplies to neighborhoods and make testing widely accessible. We are still identifying the best procedures for opening the clinic for full services as we wait for rapid testing kits.
What advice might you recall receiving from a Carroll professor or mentor during your days as a student that you carried into your career?
Don’t take classes for the class. Find the good teachers, and then take every class they teach. You will never fail to learn. Some people have such a gift for teaching, and they teach far beyond the boundaries of the curriculum. They are the ones you will never stop learning from. You are paying good money for these classes. Take the ones where you will learn the most.
What was your favorite tradition or event while at Carroll and why?
"The Ganfield Tea Party" was my personal favorite. It wasn’t a tradition but a venture led by students to bring attention to some much needed renovations in the aging building. At the time, Ganfield Gymnasium was designated for women, while Van Male was brand new and much better equipped for student athletes. During Parents’ Weekend my sophomore year, we invited parents to come to “The Ganfield Tea Party” before the football game. We gave tours of the building, served tea and cookies, and offered pre-addressed postcards to the Board of Directors with contrasting pictures of Van Male and Ganfield on the other side. I am happy to share renovations on Ganfield began the next year. Although the renovations were not completed until after I graduated, it was a satisfying accomplishment knowing our voice made a difference.
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What was the most memorable part of your own commencement in 1980? The bagpipes? The pomp and circumstance?
Carroll does a nice Commencement ceremony. It is the right mix of tradition, celebration, and time for family and friends. There was something really special about having my friends and family there to witness the receipt of my diploma; their presence helped to solidify the reality for me.
What message do you hope to share with the class of 2020?
Well, there is the message I prepared before COVID-19, and the message after COVID-19 happened. I was going to speak about Carroll’s theme for the year: respect. I wanted to share my personal stories at the Bread of Healing Clinic, where I learned about respect for patients, who have so much to teach the rest of us. Respect for the patients who care for parents and grandchildren; patients who give up a job to go to Mississippi to care for a parent for six months, because it is their “turn”; patients who share their talents like swim team instructors, jazz pianists or poets. Everyone has gifts to share, no matter how “limited” their lives may seem. Life is about finding those gifts and inviting those gifts out into the open to share with others.
However, after COVID-19, I evolved my message to include the acknowledgment that life requires adjusting. As much planning as you want to do, as much as you think you can control the situation; life interferes, and you are required to adjust. COVID-19 has shown us that most particularly. But Carroll has precisely trained all of us for those adjustments—micro or macro. My message is—you—the graduates of 2020 are prepared for whatever life brings!
How did moving commencement virtually changed your message?
I must admit as an introvert, it took less energy to speak to three people and two cameras than a lawn full of graduates and their family and friends. So maybe I should thank COVID-19 for creating this virtual opportunity?
What do you know now that you wish you’d known as a new graduate of Carroll?
Trust the education you received at Carroll University. Trust your journey. You do not need a map. Make the best decisions you can make along the way and move forward. Sometimes you have to move back a step before moving forward again, but Carroll has given you the foundation and skills you need for success.
What is the best piece of advice you wish to share with the class of 2020?
To the Carroll graduates of 2020, the world needs you! You have been educated for this moment—and we need you! Life will not be exactly as you planned it to be, but the reality is it rarely is for most of us! Look for opportunities where there seems to be obstacles. And look for support from your friends—your strongest and your most challenging relationships will be the friendships forged at Carroll.