July 21, 2023

A tribute to Dr. Mike Fetters from the Michigan Mixed Methods Team

We write in celebration of the life of Dr. Michael D. Fetters, Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan who passed away in his peaceful lake home on July 16, 2023.

Mike’s educational journey began in Ohio and took him across the world to Kikugawa in Shizuoka, Japan in 1979 as a high school exchange student. For medical school, he was a Buckeye at The Ohio State University and then a Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill for his Master of Public Health. In 1994, Mike joined the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan where he remained a Wolverine for nearly three decades.

An entire book could be written about Mike’s career as a family physician, researcher, and teacher. His 72-page resume spills over with scientific publications (over 300!), manuscripts and books in multiple languages, cutting-edge research grants to improve the health and well-being of families and communities in different cultural settings, a long list of mentees, and prestigious accolades.

Members of the Department of Family Medicine at the 2023 STFM Spring conference in Tampa, Florida

This year alone, Mike was honored with six awards that included not just one but two Humanism in Medicine Awards. In addition, at his academic home, The University of Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research recognized Mike for demonstrating “the highest standard for clinical research mentorship” with the 2023 Distinguished Mentor Award. At the national level, Mike was honored for his life-time achievements in primary care research with the 2023 Curtis G Hames Research Award.

Of course, Mike’s impact could not be contained within the U.S. border. To celebrate Mike’s years of service to The Japan America Society of Michigan and Southwestern Ontario, a non-profit dedicated to strengthening ties between Japan and our region, dignitaries from Japan, Canada, and the US presented Mike with the Award of Excellence. He also received the Outstanding Contribution Award from the Japan Primary Care Association for his life-long promotion of primary care in Japan.

Yet Mike’s career cannot be fully appreciated with numbers and titles alone. The stories of the lives he changed with his creativity and passion could fill an encyclopedic text. Two of these stories deserve special mention.

The first story begins in 1997, when Mike’s visionary leadership resulted in the creation of a first-of-its-kind Japanese Family Health Program (JFHP). Based at U-M, the JFHP’s mission was to improve the physical and emotional health of Japanese-speaking patients - from womb to tomb -  with culturally and linguistically appropriate primary care, education, and research.

JFHP Staff March 2013

Today, the JFHP is a thriving program that has touched the lives of thousands of patients and over 100 visiting scholars from Japan. One of Mike’s dreams was to develop family medicine as a specialty in Japan. In collaboration with his Japanese colleagues and friends, in 2010, he helped establish one of the first family medicine residency programs in Shizuoka, Japan where he was an exchange student four decades before. Visitors from this and other programs in Japan continue to visit UM JFHP, which provides an invaluable learning ground for future Japanese family physicians.

The second story comes nearly two decades later, as Mike never tired from challenges. By this time, Mike had established himself as an international pioneer in mixed methods research, the science of combining quantitative data (numbers and statistics) and qualitative data (words, pictures, audio).  Mike naturally communicated in both languages. Numerically, he explained mixed methods as “1+1=3” to underscore how both types of data together were more powerful than either alone. Visually, he used the yin-yang symbol to show how these two opposites were inseparable and complementary forces. He loved drawing and scribbling while thinking aloud, filling entire whiteboards with his expansive ideas (“A picture is worth a thousand words”).

Mixed Methods Workshop Attendees

In 2015, Mike and his close colleague and friend John Creswell co-founded the Michigan Mixed Methods Program, which Mike directed until 2022. In just 8 years, the Mixed Methods Program has achieved global recognition as a think tank and training program, and is well-known for its popular training courses attended by scholars across the globe.  Mike infused his love for tinkering, building, and creating in these courses, such that attendees are given free rein to think, write, and discuss their ideas with peers and experts (“Get ready to work, after all this is a workshop!”).

Perhaps what Mike will be most fondly remembered for is his unbridled enthusiasm, support,  and belief in the potential of his colleagues and mentees around the world.  Mike never missed an opportunity to publicly celebrate our accomplishments.  He was a master connector who brought people together over good food and conversation, weaving ever-expanding networks of friendships and professional collaborations. He encouraged us to dream big. He urged us to go for it (“Yes, you can write that book!”). He challenged us to reach for goals that we thought were out of reach  (“You will never publish in a top journal if you never submit.”). He convinced us that our ideas are worth sharing (“You are bigger than you think you are!”).

Mike, we thank you for these daily affirmations that buoyed us during frustrating times.

Mike, we thank you for your unwavering belief that we were ready for a challenge before we believed it ourselves.

Mike, we will miss you dearly.

Mike, we will carry on your teachings and wisdom to the best of our abilities.


With love and gratitude,

Your friends and colleagues

The Mixed Methods Program