Dr. John M. Hickner

ESCANABA — Dr. John M. Hickner, age 72, died peacefully in his home in Escanaba on August 22, 2022 from a glioblastoma brain tumor. He is survived by Val, his devoted wife of 48 years, and their five children, Michael (Kathy), Laura (Joe), Zach (Lauren), Anna, and Olivia (Zack). John had five grandsons, Isaac, Teague, and Gavin Freidhoff, and Gabriel and Nathaniel Hickner. John was preceded in death by his parents, George and Mary, and two of 12 siblings, Catherine and Jim. He will be missed by his surviving siblings, Peter (Carol), Martha (John), Joe (Gail), Paul (Paula), Rosemary (Gerald), Ann (Brian), Tom (Amy), Bob (Meg), George (Jackie), Patti (Garrik). Numerous nieces, nephews, cousins, and extended Hickner family members mourn John’s passing.

John had an active and full life, starting in childhood. He and his 12 siblings lived in several states during their upbringing until John graduated from Niles High School in Niles, Ind. An undoubtedly busy household, John participated in a variety of sports and excelled in academics, which he continued through post-secondary education. He completed his BA in psychology (Cum Laude) at St. John University in Collegeville, Minn. before attending Indiana University Medical School, where he earned his MD in 1975. He later earned a master’s degree in clinical research design and biostatistics at the University of Michigan School of Public Health to support his work in primary care research. 

John and Val married in 1974 in St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Sioux Falls, S.D. John completed his residency in Family Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. John, Val, and their young children arrived in Escanaba in 1978 so John could practice rural medicine and train medical students with the Upper Peninsula Medical Education Program (UPMEP), at that time a satellite location of Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine, where he was a faculty member for 25 years. He also held multiple leadership positions such as Program Director of UPMEP, Chief of Staff and Medical Director at OSF Medical Group and St. Francis Hospital, and eventually became the founding director of the AAFP National Research Network. John and his rural colleagues were family medicine pioneers in evidence-based approaches to patient care and value-based medicine. He built multiple primary care clinical practice research networks on the national, state, and local levels to serve rural communities and gained further recognition for this work when he was recruited to Vice Chair of Family Medicine at the University of Chicago. In 2009 he became the Chairman of Family Medicine at Cleveland Clinic and established their Medicine Institute Center for Research and Innovation (MICRI), which promoted the “medical home” approach to primary care. Throughout his career as a clinician, teacher, and researcher, John published hundreds of research publications, was on the founding editorial board of The Journal of Patient Safety, and became a Life Member of the American Board of Family Practice. After he retired from medical practice and his position as Chair of Family Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago in May 2018, he continued to serve as Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Family Practice, recorded episodes of the Primary Care Update podcast, and lectured at multiple national conferences each year through early 2022. His visionary impact on improving patient care with specific attention to safety, quality, and value in rural settings has been widely regarded, and the lives that he has touched, from colleagues and staff to patients and students, are a testament to his heartfelt dedication and intellectual rigor. 

While John was fiercely dedicated to his profession, he also had numerous hobbies that he enjoyed with his family and friends, including excelling as a tennis player, making music with his family, and finding relaxation on his sailboat, Valium Two. His young family enjoyed sailing adventures to Fayette, Door County, and destinations across Lake Michigan. They also traveled frequently and built many memories during a six-month sabbatical in Australia and New Zealand. John and Val traveled extensively as a couple, visiting over 40 countries around the world and all 50 U.S. states. John and Val’s house was filled with music, from piano playing to guitars to many, many sing-alongs. In retirement, they loved sitting on their patio and sharing the company of family and friends. They built many fond memories with Val’s extended family, the Trudeaus, especially over holidays. Furthermore, John was an avid reader, from stacks of medical journals to exploring the Chronicles of Narnia series with his kids several times over to revisiting several classics. Right through age 71, he pulled his grandkids around Lake Michigan on the ski boat and maintained his fine one-ski slalom form to the cheers of his adoring family, spectating from land. From evenings of dancing in the kitchen and sipping a cocktail, to visiting his children and grandchildren across the U.S., he will always be remembered by those closest to him as a devoted Catholic, a sharp mind, and one of the best examples of accepting life’s offerings in stride.

John Hickner will be deeply missed by his family, friends, colleagues, and wider community. He was a champion for rural and marginalized folks in need of quality healthcare, and he brought positive change to primary care. He cared fervently for all he encountered in his life and was offered the same grace when treated by Drs. Stupp and Chandler in addition to many hospital staff, including Dr. Tyler Koski who was instrumental in his admission to Northwestern Memorial’s neurosurgical unit. The Hickner family is immensely grateful to all involved in helping John during his final months of life, including Gayle De Shambo and the care team at UP Health Systems Home Health and Hospice who brought comfort to his final weeks.

The family will receive family and friends on Monday, August 29 from 2 to 4:30 p.m. at the Crawford Funeral Home, 302 S 13th St, Escanaba. The Mass of Christian burial will be at 5 p.m. at St. Joseph and St. Patrick Catholic Church with the Very Rev. Tim Ferguson. John will be laid to rest at Holy Cross Cemetery in Escanaba.

Since Dr. Hickner began his 44-year medical career at OSF, in lieu of flowers, please consider memorials to the OSF HealthCare Foundation Cancer/Infusion Clinic, 3401 Ludington Street, Escanaba, MI 49829, or to the Dr. John & Valerie Hickner Scholarship Fund, Bay College Foundation, 2001 N Lincoln Rd, Escanaba, MI 49829. 

A message of condolence may be directed to the family by visiting www.crawfordfuneralhomes.net.

The Crawford Funeral Homes are assisting the Hickner family.