EAST LANSING - Cheboygan family physician Loretta M. Leja, MD, received the Michigan State Medical Society's most prestigious award on Saturday, April 26, at the MSMS annual House of Delegates meeting in Dearborn, the Frederick and Besse Moulton Plessner Memorial Award.
The Plessner Award is presented annually to a physician who, in the opinion of the MSMS Board of Directors, best exemplifies the practice and ethics of a rural country practitioner.
"This year, the MSMS Board of Directors is proud to present this prestigious award to Doctor Loretta M. Leja, a family physician practicing in the small town of Cheboygan," said MSMS Board chair David A. Share, MD, when presenting the award in front of more than 200 of her physician colleagues from across Michigan who attended the annual meeting. "Her commitment to practicing primary care in a rural setting is a testament to the qualities that Frederick Plessner admired when he created this special recognition."
Small towns are nothing new to Doctor Leja, a family physician practicing in Cheboygan for the past 30 years, Doctor Share said. She was born in the tiny town of Abrams, Wisconsin, just north of Green Bay and graduated from Oconto Falls High School, which is just up the road from Abrams.
"Only during undergrad at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, medical school at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, and residency in Saginaw did she live in a city with more than 5,000 people," Doctor Share said.
"And that's the way she likes it," Doctor Share said. "Snowshoeing in the winter, hiking and biking in the summer, getting to know her patients like family, and making a difference in her community keep her motivated despite the onslaught of local and national challenges facing the practice of medicine."
Doctor Leja came to Cheboygan in 1982 with her late husband, Doctor Douglas Jackson, also a family physician, because they wanted to practice in a rural, underserved area and make an impact on their community. They were successful in doing so together and Doctor Leja has maintained that momentum. Doctor Jackson received the Plessner Award in 2003.
Patients and community leaders point to Doctor Leja's work with complex pregnancies, with prosecutors in child abuse cases, her counseling with troubled teenagers, her concern for elderly patients, and her leadership in the local hospice.
"From cradle to grave, Doctor Leja's concern is the same, doing her very best for each and every patient," Doctor Share said. "'Family' is the word most often used by her patients in describing Doctor Leja. 'She always treats you like family' is a common comment from her patients."
In addition to her practice, Doctor Leja volunteers at a local free clinic set up through the United Way.
While her three children were growing up, in addition to a busy practice, Doctor Leja was active in the community's soccer, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts programs. Now that Andrew, Rebecca, and Christopher are all in undergrad or post-graduate programs, she is turning her attention back to her professional organizations. Last year she was elected to the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians Board of Directors.
The Plessner Award was established by MSMS in 1979 following a bequest from the will of Frederick Plessner with the stipulation it be used to provide cash awards to rural physicians. The bequest was in honor of Mr. Plessner's grandfather who practiced medicine in rural Saginaw in the late 1800s. Over the years, the Plessner Award has been presented to 28 physicians from across the state.