At the Top of His Game

As he heads into retirement, well-known Ames physician Jon Fleming sits down for an interview to talk about his passions: patient care, volunteering and Iowa State University.


Dr. Fleming

Dr. Jon Fleming is retiring from
medicine, but not from volunteering.

News of Jon Fleming's retirement no doubt gave some people a stomach ache, which is ironic, since that's the sort of ailment that have led so many people to seek help from the silver-haired gastroenterologist.

But after nearly a quarter of a century in practice at McFarland Clinic and Mary Greeley Medical Center, Fleming has more than earned it. And what better time? He's leaving on a decidedly high note.

Fleming graduated with highest distinction from Iowa State University with an interesting pre-med major: meteorology. He attended the University of Iowa School of Medicine, completed an internship and residency in internal medicine at the University of Kansas, a fellowship at Mayo Clinic, and then came to Ames.

This spring, the Charles City native was awarded Mary Greeley Medical
Center's Innovation and Excellence in Medical Practice award, given each year to a doctor who makes a significant contribution to his practice and patients, is a leader, contributes to the community, and fosters the spread of knowledge.

Comments in the nominations letters praised his energy, diligence and
professionalism. One letter noted "his thoroughness in evaluating patients and their problems is unparalleled."

Fleming recently saw G.I. Services at Mary Greeley Medical Center
receive best-in-state ratings. He is also helping to lead an ambitious $6
million capital campaign to help fund the $129 million expansion project
at the medical center.

The doctor recently sat down with us to explain why he's hanging up his white coat and what he plans do to now. Hint: It still involves giving of his time, cheering for Iowa State, and, finally, getting a pet.

Q: First, do you want to take this opportunity to urge people to get a colonoscopy?

A: Absolutely. Colonoscopy is essential in increasing the detection rate and removal of colon polyps, which are precursors to colon cancer. Numerous studies have substantiated that screening colonoscopy and removal of polyps have decreased the incidence of colon cancer.

Q: As the director of McFarland Clinic's Gastroenterology Department, you have helped hundreds of patients through their gastrointestinal challenges. Where did your interest in this field of medicine come from?

A: I developed an interest in liver disease during my residency days at the University of Kansas. I was truly inspired by my all-time favorite teacher/mentor, Dr. Norton Greenberger, who is a world renowned liver and gastrointestinal specialist. I was his Chief Resident during my final year at the University of Kansas and to this day, even though he has relocated to Boston, communicate with him on a regular basis.

Q: Considering your years of service to gastrointestinal care, it must be gratifying to see Mary Greeley's G.I. Services receive a best-in-state rating from HealthGrades?

A: It's terrific, and well deserved for many reasons. I started the program back in 1986. Over the years, we've been very fortunate to recruit and retain very high-quality physicians. So we have continuity of care, and the physicians are just the best. We also have a phenomenal staff at McFarland and Mary Greeley—very effective, very caring, very easy to relate. Our patients love them.

The close working relationship and geographic proximity of the clinic and hospital are ideal for providing an optimal and efficient working environment. This greatly assists in providing a high quality of care. I just think we have the ideal chemistry right now.

Q: It must be equally pleasing to watch progress on the medical center's building project, which is being partially funded by the Extraordinary Visions campaign that you co-chair.

A: An institution or organization must always move forward. Nothing stays the same, so if you stay the same, even though you think you're staying the same, you're actually moving backward because everything else is moving forward.

Mary Greeley is definitely moving forward, and the building project is evidence of that. This campaign is very important to continuing our high-quality care. And I feel this is a project that will position us very well for many years into the future.

Q: You are a busy volunteer. What compels you to give so much of your time and talents?

A: I have been involved in many volunteer groups. I'm not sure I can even list them all. (Editor’s note: So let us list them! They include the Mary Greeley Medical Center Foundation, National Cyclone Club, chairing the ISU Alumni Association Board of Directors, serving as an ISU Foundation Governor, serving on ISU's Partnership for Prominence national campaign, the Parks Library Foundation committee, Hope 4 Africa, the Jewish Life Center, fundraising for WOI, fundraising for Ames' youth sports complex, and the United Way. When his fraternity at ISU, Theta Chi, burned to the ground in 1996, it was Fleming who led efforts to get a new house rebuilt.)

But I'm very passionate about them. I'm very passionate about the
direction of the University.

And working with Theta Chi Fraternity and assisting the undergraduate brothers is my number one priority. Nothing is more satisfying to me. If just one member each year becomes better prepared for life after graduation, it is well worth all my time and effort.

I feel volunteering is an obligation. It's something everyone should do. I think there's a real need.

Q: In 1995, you were named "Cy's Favorite Alum" by the ISU athletic department. How does one achieve that status?

A: Back when I was in the tenth grade, I visited my brother at Iowa State for a football game—Iowa State vs. Colorado State. It was 1969 at the old Clyde Williams Field. I thought, "This is it. This is Utopia. At the age of 16, I have found my love."

And in the 26 years I've lived in Ames, I have missed only one home football game and two men's home basketball games.

The reason I missed the football game was that it was my brother's
surprise 50th birthday party in Boston. When my sister-in-law told me the date, I said, "You know, it would be much more of a surprise if rather than have it on his birthday, you'd have it a month later."

And she asked me, "Is there an Iowa State game that day?"

Q: You're retiring in June. Why retire now, at just age 59? And how are you going to spend it?

A: I love what I'm doing, but sometimes you just know it's time. And for me, it's time. I've been here 26 years. Professionally, this was the best move I made when I came to McFarland Clinic and had the opportunity to work with Mary Greeley Medical Center. I feel we deliver an extraordinarily high quality of care. Mainly, I'll spend retirement volunteering. I'm going to stay very, very involved. And I think I'll get a dog. I just didn't have the time or the lifestyle to have a dog before. So I'm getting a Westie. I'm looking forward to being able to do that.