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A few months after Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago hired Donna Wetzler as its first general counsel, the 52-year-old lawyer participated in a leadership session with the hospital’s senior management. The human resources consultant who led the meeting determined that Wetzler “had recently shown an inability to delegate.” Wetzler chuckles as she recalls that diagnosis. After a 26-year career at Chicago’s 240-lawyer Gardner, Carton & Douglas handling health care company financings, she became a legal department of one earlier this year. “There is no one here I can delegate to,” she says. The granddaughter of a pediatrician whose mother and uncle were also doctors, Wetzler was drawn to health care practice after finishing law school at Harvard in 1975. She is also accustomed to uncharted paths, having transferred from Smith College to Yale in 1969, the first year in which that university’s undergraduate college enrolled female students. Wetzler says she welcomed the transition to her new general counsel post, which demands less document production than her previous job but requires rendering a more diverse array of legal advice. She used to explain what she did by saying, “Donna does debt,” but that shorthand doesn’t fit anymore. “Each day is so incredibly different,” Wetzler says. “In addition to changing locales,” she adds, “I changed my major.” The GC recently reviewed Illinois’ raffle regulations in preparation for a hospital fund-raiser, and previewed a six-part documentary on the history of Children’s Memorial, scheduled to air nationally on PBS television. Opened in 1882 by a mother in memory of her deceased 13-year-old son, the hospital maintains 250 beds across 13 Chicago-area sites and is the pediatric teaching facility for Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. As GC, Wetzler now directs a mix of employee benefits, tax, litigation, and regulatory work to several Chicago firms, though her former employer, Gardner Carton, remains the hospital’s largest legal services provider. Given the current funding climate, Wetzler says, she has no plans to hire additional attorneys in-house. Having spent her entire career at Gardner Carton, the new GC says her decision to leave “was not a midlife crisis, but a later-in-life crisis.” While impressed by the business savvy of her management colleagues at Children’s Memorial, Wetzler says she is invigorated by the hospital’s caregiving and educational missions. “There’s a larger good here,” she says of her new workplace.

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