Tara (Taylor) Federly ’02 and Amy Petersen Burrell ’02 have wanted to practice medicine almost as long as they’ve been best friends. “Tara and I met in kindergarten and were inseparable from then on,” Petersen says. As kids, they not only played doctor but also recorded videos of themselves dispensing advice on exercise and nutrition. Their childhood play turns out to have foreshadowed their future careers: in September, they opened their own practice together, Cornerstone Pediatrics and Family Allergy in West Des Moines, Iowa.
As a kid, Petersen looked up to her pediatrician, who influenced her choice to enter the pediatrics field. Federly, an allergist for children and adults, has photos of herself with play stethoscopes as a child, but her plans solidified when she shadowed an orthopedic surgeon in high school. The two friends made the decision to study at Luther independently, but they were drawn by the same aspects of the college. They both wanted a smaller school with a strong biology program, and each appreciated the ability to continue to play sports (Petersen played varsity basketball, and Federly played JV basketball and participated in track and field). Of her visit to campus during her college search, Federly says, “I remember people smiling and interacting and taking time to talk to me, and I liked the idea of really getting to know other students and professors.”
Petersen and Federly cite their experience with Luther’s cadaver lab during an anatomy course with Wendy (Tessman) Stevens ’69, assistant professor emerita of biology, as particularly profound. “That was an eye-opener for both of us that we do really enjoy learning about the body,” Petersen says. “It was a big influence, and we felt very privileged to be able to experience that.”
The two friends parted ways when they started medical school—Federly at the University of Minnesota and Petersen at Des Moines University—but their paths reconverged last year, when they made the bold decision to start a practice together. “It was always in the back of our minds, but we never felt like the timing was right,” Petersen says. “But we finally decided: why not do this? We’re at a good point in our careers where we can provide something of real value to our community.”
Of course, the duo had to draw on a lot of skills outside their areas of expertise in order to launch Cornerstone. “Most of starting a clinic doesn’t neatly overlap with the skills of being a physician,” Petersen wryly observes.
“Designing a clinic, construction, credentialing, malpractice insurance—we learned so much over the past six months,” Federly says, noting that their Luther experience came in handy here. “Our learning at Luther was broad—it wasn’t all about biology. We got a well-rounded education, and that was helpful in these different aspects of starting a business.”
Is the pair nervous about mixing friendship with business? “Not at all,” Petersen says, not missing a beat. “We’ve been best friends for 35 years and have supported each other through lots of great things and lots of difficult things. We have a really good foundation—thus the name Cornerstone for our clinic. We can approach each other honestly and openly, and we have the same goals.”
“We have this really strong foundation of trust and respect that we want to bring to our business,” agrees Federly. “Plus,” she adds, “if you can live with someone your freshman year of college, together you can get through anything.”