Nancy Kreuser began her career in the health field working at a hospital, but even with a case load of 80 people, she was troubled by how little face-to-face time she spent with her clients.
Kreuser eventually transitioned into working at a homecare agency where she enjoyed more interaction, and she's taught nursing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she also earned her doctorate.
On Feb. 1, Kreuser will retire as Wauwatosa's health officer — a position she's held for more than 20 years and one that offered the perfect combination of community engagement and preventive health care practices.
'It just seemed like a nice (opportunity) with the different skills and background I have,' Kreuser said of the position. 'It has a preventive focus and a community focus.'
Throughout her tenure, Kreuser said she's seen her fair share of evolving, new diseases, including the introduction of the monkey pox virus in 2003, a disease first identified in laboratory monkeys.
Wauwatosa dealt with about five cases of monkey pox either in animals or humans, Kreuser said.
'It was kind of on the heels of all the scare about smallpox,' she said.
Later on, in 2005, Wauwatosa saw about 1,000 exposures to the highly contagious respiratory infection whooping cough. It was a big job for the Wauwatosa Health Department, which was responsible for keeping tabs on each person and family affected by the infection.
Even later, between 2009 and 2010, the health department served the public during the worldwide H1N1 flu virus pandemic. The virus, also known as swine flu, drew 1,000 people to the city's first clinic session dealing with the disease.
Most recently, the health department was involved with the Ebola scare that left thousands dead across the world and many monitored for the virus in the United States. If needed, Kreuser and her staff of 14 would have monitored travelers exposed to the virus, as both Children's Hospital of Wisconsin and Froedtert Hospital were designated treatment centers.
The city's health department compiled literature on the scare and fielded a few phone calls from residents curious about the risks, but its involvement with monitoring designated treatment centers was kept quiet.
'Because of (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), you couldn't really say to people we had all of this going on in our community,' Kreuser said. 'We don't advertise that, but we also would never put the public at risk by not sharing something.'
A decision that raised a lot of eyebrows during Kreuser's career came in 2006 when Wauwatosa passed a restaurant smoking ban, making it the first city in Milwaukee County to do so.
'We queried the community and over 70 percent were in favor of smoke-free,' Kreuser said. 'It was a high profile ordinance that went through.'
Of course, a statewide smoking ban on workplaces followed in 2010.
While Kreuser's job has been educating the public about health concerns like high-profile diseases, she spent much time conducting research into different site plans; for example, what the health risks would be if someone wanted to open a sushi restaurant in a residential neighborhood.
Her favorite part, though, has been working with the community partners — whether it's the city's development department, the Tosa Farmer's Market, Tosa Night Out or collaborating with other communities, among many other entities.
'It's just the highlight of my job, just working with people,' she said.
An interim health officer will be hired after Kreuser steps down.
Kreuser was recently named a distinguished alumna by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee College of Nursing, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. She will be honored at a ceremony in April.
Kreuser said she plans to spend time in Arizona and with her 'grandbaby on the way,' during retirement.