22 on by OC Schools

Following God in the Medical Field – Dr. Todd Westra

“That’s the joy of being a Christian — We are always able to see God’s hands, looking back.”

As Todd Westra ‘83 strolled down the passageway of Kaiser Permanente’s Ontario Medical Center, he greeted the staff by name. He joked with nurses and thanked a custodian for giving him some of the best tamales he had ever tasted. His voice was calm and manners mild, and people gravitated toward him.

He seemed to be exactly where he belonged.

But Westra, Assistant Area Medical Director of Kaiser Permanente’s Fontana and Ontario Medical Centers, said being a doctor was never on his radar growing up. In fact, he thought he would become an architect after taking four years of drafting class with Mr. Swangel at Ontario Christian Schools. While his journey to a profession in medicine was filled with twists and turns, he thanked God for pointing him along the way.

“Not every day is a perfect day, but you should have the peace of knowing you’re doing what you’re passionate about,” Westra said. “I took the long road; sometimes you don’t know everything, and it takes you a little longer.”

Now Westra can see how God has prepared him for the

next step, in ways he was not aware of at the time. Calling his OC teachers “vessels of God’s love and guidance,” he appreciated their love, wisdom and passion. It was Mrs. Berniklau who challenged him to live by faith. Mr. Hamming opened his eyes to God’s creation in everything — from Shakespeare to football. And it was Mr. Swangel who taught him the art of architecture, and what it meant to be well-prepared in everything.

After he graduated in the OC class of 1983 — the class with the highest college acceptance rate compared to all previous years — he followed his parents’ footsteps to Calvin College, where he met his wife, Joan. They have two daughters, Allyx ‘09 and Tori ‘16. He started out majoring in architecture. With time, he felt a calling to work with people. Medicine crossed his mind, but the academic confidence was not yet there. He decided to pursue psychology.

After completing his bachelor of arts degree at California State University, Fullerton, he attended the School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary. There he obtained his master’s degree in psychology. Yet he continued to feel a call to medicine. By this time, Joan was an RN working at Huntington Memorial in Pasadena. He used to sit in the medical library at Huntington while waiting for her to finish her shift. With Joan’s support, he decided to pursue medicine. He spent another two years studying biological sciences and chemistry at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Finally, he was admitted to Loma Linda University School of Medicine at age 27.

Though his journey to the medical field was winding, Westra can see how God used that time to develop what would be used later in his career.

“He also used that time to build my trust in Him to provide me the skills to do whatever he had in store for my life,” Westra said.

After graduating from medical school, he did a Family Medicine residency at Kaiser’s Fontana Medical Center. Without intentions of being a leader, he was elected to be the chief resident. Later, he was promoted to become the Physician in Charge at the former Kaiser clinic in Ontario, where he grew up going as a child. A highlight for Westra was being sent to Harvard Business School for the Executive Leadership Program.

“Although I had almost no business and management training, my organization supported me educationally all along the way,” he said.

Dr. Todd Westra, OC Class of 1983

A few years ago Kaiser closed the Ontario clinic — and it asked Westra to be the lead physician in the opening of a brand-new $575 million medical center in Ontario. That was when his architecture and psychology background came into play. He led his staff to create a healing environment and a healthy, invigorating work culture. In terms of service and safety, the Ontario Medical Center is ranked in the 99th percentile in the nation.

“People are very hungry for leaders who are humble, compassionate and vulnerable,” he said. “Modeling Christ’s selfless love as a leader is about making sure those around you are successful.”

He now oversees more than 700 physicians in multiple departments across two medical centers. He continues to practice Family Medicine at the Ontario facility. Many of his patients have been with him for his 15 year career; he knows their stories, their joys, and their struggles. He said he enjoys being part of his patients’ lives.

Larry Oliver, Associate Medical Group Administrator, who is his leadership partner, said Westra has done all things well.

“People light up whenever they see Dr. Westra,” Oliver said. “This man has a great heart and a great mind. He nourishes us every day.”

Westra had not pictured himself as a doctor or a leader, but now knows that was what God had in mind all along.

“That’s the joy of being a Christian — We are always able to see God’s hands, looking back.”