A Publication of WTVP

Meet ‘Dr. Voz’

by Linda Smith Brown | Photo by Ron Johnson |
Dr. Voz Jump Trading

Jump Simulation is an industry leader in no small part because of the vision and tireless efforts of John Vozenilek

The career he thought he’d have: The lone doctor in a rural area, carrying a little black bag of medical instruments.

The career he actually has: Medical director of the largest specially built medical simulation and innovation center in the country.

Dr. John Vozenilek, 53, vice president and chief medical officer at OSF Innovation and founding executive director of Jump Trading Simulation & Education Center, oversees some of the most cutting-edge developments in health care today.

“Ironically, as I went through undergrad and medical school, I thought that I was going to be the classic rural doctor with the little black bag,” said Vozenilek. “Thinking I was going to be the one doc in the county.”

But through the study of emergency medicine, the country doctor aspirations were replaced by a bigger reality.

“I found that through the process of medical school, what I liked was the diversity of patients, the speed, the fact every patient was unknown and the problems needed to be solved,” said Vozenilek.

“So, I wound up in an urban, Level 1 trauma center in the middle of Chicago, as far away from that dream of a rural doc in some county somewhere as I could possibly be,” he said.

Empire State to Sunshine State

Born in upstate New York, Vozenilek and his family moved to Boca Raton, Florida, where he grew up surrounded by innovation. His father was one of the early members of the IBM team that brought the personal computer to life.

“My father used to bring home devices,” from the office, said Vozenilek. “I saw a very early prototype of a mouse, before it was a thing.”

The senior Vozenilek would observe how his kids interacted with devices and software. “So, I learned at a very young age how to do spreadsheets, for example,” Vozenilek said. “Very nerdy.”

Vozenilek graduated from the University of Florida in Gainesville, then attended medical school at the University of Miami in Coral Gables. From there he went to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois for the study of emergency medicine.

‘Nerdy’ roots sprout into a career

Vozenilek attended an academic conference on emergency medicine in 1999, when he encountered medical simulation for the first time. There were patient simulator devices, full robots, full human simulators.

“I was there with a colleague and we volunteered to be part of a case presentation — a person who was having an airway emergency,” said Vozenilek. “Both of us dug into the case and it was really quite stressful. I was surprised. Here we are at the top of our field and getting stressed out by an overblown GI Joe.”

He began investing time and energy into figuring out how those simulation technologies could improve medical education and training.

From there, he began building simulation centers for Northwestern. More than just training medical personnel to a particular level of performance, Vozenilek realized that through simulation, the medical technologies themselves could be improved.

“In the medical field, there are things that are really high stakes, like pediatrics and pediatric resuscitation. But they’re not terribly frequent, thank goodness,” he said. “These things that are high risk and low frequency are really the things we need to be spending a generous amount of time practicing for, using techniques like simulation.”

During Jump Center’s 10 years of operation, physical simulation for training and innovation has evolved to include virtual and augmented reality.

Through the availability of these new tools, Vozenilek sees an opportunity to share medical knowledge anywhere: “They download the app or the virtual reality experience from Jump, but maybe they’re in Omaha.”

He looks back at how his father’s work in innovation has taken hold in him. “I actually think it’s part of my upbringing.”

Recruitment to Peoria

During the pre-design phase of the Jump Trading Simulation & Education Center, Dr. Richard Pearl and others from OSF toured medical simulation centers in the Midwest, including at Northwestern. Now retired and living near Cleveland, Pearl was the director of pediatric trauma and surgeon-in-chief at OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois when he met Vozenilek for the first time in 2009.

Both recall a scheduled 30-minute meeting turning into a four-hour discussion.

“I basically picked John’s brain that day. We went over in detail every bit of John’s simulation center, what was the purpose of each room and each simulation device, what his thinking was when he designed this and that,” said Pearl.

“I came back to Peoria and said to the folks there that we had to figure out some way to hire John Vozenilek to run our center.”

With that recommendation began the local conspiracy to lure Vozenilek to Peoria.

First, Vozenilek was hired as a consultant, making monthly trips to Peoria for the center’s design meetings.

Bill DiSomma, one of the founding partners of Jump Trading in Chicago, had donated $25 million through his family foundation to build the simulation center, and he invited Vozenilek to his farm in Cuba, west of Peoria. “Bill’s hobby is hunting and fishing,” explained Pearl, “and John likes to hunt and fish.

“We just got John involved, not only in the design of the simulation center but in the medical school and the community. As we were finishing up the design of the building, we made John an offer to be the director of the Jump Center, and the medical school made him an offer to be a full professor at the university.

“Eventually, I think John saw the future in terms of what Jump could be and he took the position.”

High praise

Pearl does not spare the superlatives for his friend, “Dr. Voz,” whom he describes as “spectacular … He’s a visionary and probably as good at his job as anybody not just in the country, but in the world.”

Pearl also credits Vozenilek for the dynamic talent that has been recruited to Jump. “It’s not the building. It’s the people. And the people recruited and trained in that building are just unique and special.”

Sister Judith Ann Duvall, chairperson of the boards of OSF HealthCare and Major Superior of the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, also helped recruit Vozenilek to central Illinois.

“Dr. Vozenilek is dedicated to ensuring our innovative efforts align with our mission to serve with the greatest care and love,” she said. “Using his faith as a compass, he has made it his purpose to find, develop and advance solutions that address health inequities and improve the health and wellness of each of our communities, regardless of their location.”

A very busy guy

Vozenilek actually has three jobs. Besides his medical director responsibilities, he is a professor at the University of Illinois, teaching students at the College of Medicine in Peoria and at the main campus in Urbana-Champaign.

Vozenilek and his wife, Dr. Tina Croland, have a blended family of six children, all in college. “We’re empty nesters,” he said.

On a free Sunday, “apart from the religious activity, I actually do a lot of reading and I’m sad to tell you that I don’t spend a whole lot of time in just pleasure reading,” he said. “I’ll spend a fair amount of time catching up on journal articles and other areas of interest. Which sounds maybe a little boring when I say it out loud like this, but for me there aren’t a lot of other quiet moments to just read and reflect.”

He does set aside time for some fun, which includes fishing, boating and bird hunting. His face lights up when talking about traveling with his wife. A favorite destination was Machu Picchu in Peru. A biking/hiking tour in Guatemala was memorable. Next stop, Croatia.

Ultimately, his work still drives and inspires him, especially his mission to support others to use their talents in service to others.

As for Jump, “it’s on its journey to improve patient outcomes and reduce health care costs through training and innovation,” while serving “as a beacon to others who wish to do the same.”

Linda Smith Brown

Linda Smith Brown

is a 37-year veteran of the newspaper industry, retiring as publisher of Times Newspapers in the Peoria area