In Good Health
Alumna and healthcare innovater Judi Druske Teske credits St. Kate's for her long and successful career.
By Sharon Rolenc
Judi Druke Teske SP'66 arrived in Washington, D.C., the autumn after graduation with a suitcase full of clothes and barely a dollar to her name.
A true "Jill of all trades," Teske secured an internship as a medical lab technician, moved on to the American National Red Cross blood program, then set her sights on healthcare policy and lobbying. From there, she ran a hospital foundation, served as a political appointee to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and capped her career as a corporate executive of one of the world's largest biotechnology companies.
Teske doesn't see her life's winding journey as unusual or extraordinary. For her, the common denominators have always been healthcare and faith.
Five years into her retirement, Teske remains active in St. Kate's Washington, D.C.-area alumnae chapter. She also serves on the Providence Hospital governing board, the Providence Health Foundation and the advisory council for the University's Henrietta Schmoll School of Health.
How did you end up in Washington, D.C.
With my degree in biology, I needed a 12-month internship to become a registered medical technologist. I saw moving to Washington as my opportunity to break out. I took a position in medical technology at the Washington Hospital Center, which was a 1,500-bed facility.
A few years later, I moved to the American Red Cross blood program, where I inspected blood banks around the country and trained physicians who were going to be blood-bank directors. I also worked as a bench scientist for their National Reference Laboratory. We'd pick up frozen blood samples at the airport — sometimes in the middle of the night — and then try to find a match for these rare blood types.
It was an interesting time to be in Washington, with the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the War on Poverty and so much more. I've always been interested in public policy, so I made Washington my home.
How did your St. Kate's education help shape your career?
At a women's college, all the student leaders are women. I was in a whole slew of leadership positions, which culminated with being elected student body president my senior year. That experience helped me throughout my career.
Being from the small town of Belle Plaine, Minnesota, I had no opportunity to receive a Catholic education, so I graduated from 12 years in the public schools. I chose St. Kate's. My parents didn't choose it for me. I knew that I would get a good education at St. Catherine, but I also wanted a Catholic education.
How has your faith influenced your work?
I have been devoted to Catholic healthcare my whole life. That's why I went from medical technology into public policy. As a biology major, I am very pro-life. I lobbied for the Right to Life amendment and was then hired by the Catholic Health Association [formerly the Catholic Hospital Association]. I represented them in Congress and to federal agencies for seven years.
After I brought a U.S. Senate hearing to the campus of Providence Hospital, the CEO invited me to head their hospital foundation. Fundraising is not the easiest job, but I loved that hospital community. Then I got pulled back into politics when I received an appointment as deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under Secretary Louis B. Sullivan. It was an honor and an incredible experience.
Three years later, you hadn't even left your post before corporate headhunters started contacting you. Describe that first call about Amgen.
I had never heard of Amgen, so I asked the caller to spell it. The company was originally called American Genetics. It's the world's largest biotechnology company. The headhunter told me it was California-based and wanted to open a Washington office.
They made a red-blood cell stimulator for patients who have lost their kidney function. I got excited about that because I used to work for the Red Cross — I was a blood banker, you know. When the headhunter said the other product was a white-blood cell stimulator, I was hooked. Earlier in my career, when I ran the lab for a group of hematologists, cancer patients often had to be sent home without getting chemo because their white blood cells had been knocked out from the last round of chemo.
I realized that my life had circled back to blood, and I was at the forefront of emerging medical technology again. So I spent the next 12 years with Amgen.
You've barely slowed down in your retirement.
I've never looked back and said, "Boy, do I miss working." People don't know how to be good at retiring. I've seriously thought about teaching a class on it, particularly in the Washington area where people have such a high identity with their careers. I am still as busy as can be, particularly in healthcare, which I feel deeply passionate about.
My husband and I also love to travel, and we love our place in the mountains, which he designed.
Besides your service on the School of Health advisory council, how do you give back to St. Kate's?
St. Catherine University was there for me at a very important time in my life. My father died while I was a student — he had been disabled — so we were really grateful that St. Kate's provided a full scholarship for me to study biology and chemistry. Some years ago I created a scholarship in my name. I feel so strongly about the importance of giving back.
I understand that mentoring is another way you give back.
I had wanted to have children and wasn't able to. So I've found other ways to influence the next generation. I really enjoy mentoring youth — particularly my friends' children who are facing challenges. Sometimes it helps if advice comes from someone other than a parent.
What advice would you give new college students?
Don't choose a major too quickly. Don't immediately give in to the pressure of thinking, "Where am I going to get a job in four years?" Yes, at some point you have practical considerations, but your first years in college are your time to explore the world. Allow yourself to be challenged in areas or subjects that you don't know much about.
What about new graduates just starting out?
Know your "noun" — that activity or area of work or study that is enduring throughout your life and about which you are passionate. I did know that while my "noun" wasn't medical technology per se, it was healthcare, which has been a guiding star throughout my life.
What other ethos has shaped your life?
A good attitude is everything. Life is full of adventure and opportunity, but you have to be willing to take it on, embrace it fully, and go out there and say, "I can do that."
Sharon Rolenc is alumnae communications specialist at St. Catherine University.