Family Medicine - Faculty

John E. vanSchagen, MD 
Program Director

Even though I have been the program director since 2006, I have been part of the core faculty since 1994 when I completed my career as a U.S. Navy Medical Corps officer.  I have had a long interest in the training and development of medical students and residents, with emphasis on leadership and scholarly skills.  My wife, Rose, is also a family physician; we met during medical school at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.  My wife is the politician and primary care advocacy brain of our partnership, while I am the teacher and diplomat.  We make a pretty good team for promoting family medicine in all its glory!  We have three adult children and three cool grandchildren to keep us busy when we are not boating, golfing or skiing.

Steven R. Ashmead, MD 
Senior Associate Program Director

After 29 years in Michigan I probably should call it home; however, like many of our Family Medicine Residents I have traveled far before landing here in this pleasant Peninsula.  I was born in California, raised in Texas, attended college at Rensselaer Polytechnic in New York, Medical School at Baylor in Houston and completed residency in Kalamazoo.   I had opportunities to work in the Indian Health Service in New Mexico and in Oklahoma and in a rural clinic in Western New York. My passion is to provide both excellent teaching to Residents and Medical Students, and appropriate, evidence-based medical care for our patients. My areas of interest in the Residency are Evidence-Based Medicine , Management of Chronic Medical problems, Behavioral Medicine,  Ambulatory Care, and Resident Evaluation.     I keep sane by reading the New York Times, riding a bike, cross-country skiing, kayaking and enjoying my community. I pride myself on being able to connect with patients, colleagues, and students as a result of my varied background and interests.

Michael Bishop, MD
Associate Program Director

I joined GRFMR as faculty in 2006, shortly after moving to Michigan.  I am unabashedly a transplanted Hoosier, graduating from Hanover College in 1998, Indiana University School of Medicine in 2002 and completing my Family Medicine Residency at Ball Memorial Hospital in 2005.  I oversee the Family Medicine Service (our inpatient service) and the practice management curriculum.  I also serve as the Recruitment Committee co-advisor.  I was drawn to FM as a specialty because I enjoyed interacting with all ages of patients, teaching them about their diseases and partnering with them in their health care.  In a similar way, I have been drawn into residency education, striving to help residents grow in their knowledge and passion for family medicine.  I am married to a wonderful ER physician and we have 3 children.  We recently put down roots in East Grand Rapids along with our two beagle mix rescue dogs.  When the opportunity arises, I enjoy running short 5k’s as well as the once-a-year River Bank 25K.

Barbara Stanford, MD 
Associate Program Director


I chose to become a family medicine physician after careers in hospital laboratory science and high school science teaching.  I served in the U.S. Peace Corps as a high school science teacher in Kenya 1986-1988, and it is there that I renewed my interest in medicine and returned to study at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.  I am a graduate of our residency.  I practiced briefly in suburbia before seeking opportunities to work in underserved settings, including outreach clinics for migrant farm workers and urban poor.  I now serve as medical director of the Family Medicine Center at Saint Mary's Hospital, and continue to provide the continuum of family medicine care including obstetrics and inpatient care.  My curriculm focus is obstetrics, but I have interest in women's health and pediatrics as well.  As medical director, I like to help residents navigate difficult patient encounters and focus on comprehensive preventative care and safety.  In my free time (when not assisting with residency deliveries), I enjoy gardening, taking care of my koi, reading non-fiction and travel with my spouse and two children.  Our family enjoys travel to national parks, our family cottage in northern Michigan and the occasional stay-cation in Grand Rapids (so much to do locally!).

Bill Ahrens, MD
Core Faculty

I have been a resident of "the mitten" for my entire life, but only moved to Grand Rapids in 2001 once I attended this residency program.  I grew up in metro Detroit and graduated from MSU College of Human Medicine.  However, once my wife and I fell in love with Grand Rapids and the surrounding areas, we decided to make it our home.  West Michigan is a great place to live, work and play!  I am the coordinator of the pediatrics curriculum and am also involved in the teaching of behavioral science topics.  In addition to my residency responsibilities, I am actively involved in teaching basic interview and physical exam skills to pre-clinical medical students at MSU College of Human Medicine.  In my free time, I like spending time with my wife and three children.  I also enjoy playing softball with several other faculty and residents, running, reading, and travel.

Mark Armstrong, DO
Core Faculty

I am a graduate of MSU-COM and have been in practice as a family physician for 28 years.  I am married and have three children all grown and working in a variety of occupations.  Prior to medical school, I received a master’s degree in counseling and worked in the mental health field for 2 years.  This experience was valuable in learning how to effectively communicate with patients and families.  I have worked in a variety of practices during my career.  I was in solo practice as an independent practitioner, joined the Spectrum Health Medical group and worked in a 2 physician setting until most recently being a part of a large 9 provider group.  I have been on a variety of committees from the management council to patient safety.  I am the lead physician in our practice and am in a rural area where patients have many of the same concerns as the underserved in urban areas.  I feel all of these experiences have helped to broaden my view of practice management and deliver patient-centered care.  I have been involved in medical education for 20 years.  One of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of my career has been my involvement with medical students and residents.   One of my particular joys is the one on one interaction as a preceptor in the clinic where we are able to share and learn with each new patient visit.  I have always felt that it is important to teach, to share experience and to mentor students and residents as a way of giving back to my medical school and profession as I have been afforded a fantastic, rewarding career.  I have varied interests away from medicine.  I like to hike, ski, occasionally golf and travel.  My children are scattered from Seattle to Washington DC, so I enjoy visiting them and learning about new cities and geographies. 

Maha Ayashi, MD 
Core Faculty

I have been a part of the core faculty at GRFMR since 2007. I came with previous OB/GYN training in my country of birth (Syria) in addition to family medicine training in York, Pennsylvania.  I do carry heavy OB experience under my belt in addition to a special passion for OB/GYN and women's health.  I established the OB clinic within the residency serving a high-risk OB patient population.  I am currently running the OB clinic with my colleague, Dr. Stanford, and our outstanding residents. We strive to provide a safe and enjoyable experience for both our patients and residents.  I do provide outpatient care side-by-side with our residents and am an active member of the inpatient rounding team. 

Nirali Bora, MD
Core Faculty

I joined GRFMR in 2013 after spending two years in Shiprock, New Mexico working with the Indian Health Service on a Navajo Reservation.  My interests in community and international health and working with the underserved shaped my path towards family medicine during medical school at the University of Michigan. From there, I went to Rhode Island for my residency training at Brown University's Family Medicine Residency where I stayed for another year to complete a fellowship in faculty development.  I am thrilled to be involved with resident and medical student education and enjoy working with the diverse population at the Spectrum Family Medicine Residency Center.  I enjoy spending time outdoors with my husband and son, visiting farmers' markets, reading, and traveling.

Cavacece, DO 
Core Faculty


I became faculty in 1996 after 10 rewarding years as an Air Force (AF) physician, during which I accomplished my residency in the AF and was a faculty for 5 years.   I graduated from the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine (now Midwestern University) in 1986.  I joined the Society of Teachers in Family Medicine in 1993 as part of the “Group on Family,” promoting the biopsychosocial model and began teaching the principles of “Relationship-Centered Care” as part of the behavioral science curriculum.  I am part of the inpatient rounding team and am responsible for the cardiology curriculum.  I became an avid advocate for universal health care and am presently an active member of the PNHP (Physicians for National Health Plan).  I cared for Kurdish and Haitian refugees during my AF career and gained veteran status in the first Gulf War.  I enjoy lots of kinds of music, reading and movies.  I try to help residents recognize the value of patient stories and making connections with their patients.

Mario Cesario, MD, PhD 
Core Faculty

I graduated from Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, then did residency training and faculty work early in my career in Denver, Colorado. After a 10-year foray into private practice, I have enjoyed rejoining the ranks of family medicine educators here at the residency program in Grand Rapids, where I have been since July, 2012.  My areas of medical interest include preventive care and screening, patient education, point-of-care evidence-based medical resources and immunizations.  However, the aspect of my job I enjoy most is the look on a patient’s face when that human connection has been made and they know that I am “in their corner.”   I enjoy spending time with my wife and children, playing softball and fishing.  I enjoy taking advantage of the "small moments" to teach and connect with our residents, whether on the hospital floors, precepting in the outpatient clinic, or during a 2 AM admission.

Jeff Chamberlain, MD 
Core Faculty


My wife and I met in a Bible study during undergrad at the University of Illinois.  After graduating medical school from Southern Illinois University in 2005, I came to the Family Medicine Residency here in Grand Rapids.  We liked the program and living in Grand Rapids so much that we decided to stay.   We had our two children while I was in residency.  As a faculty member, I coordinate the procedure curriculum.  One of my major focuses is using technology to improve resident and patient education. I blog under the name "Dr. Jeff MD" and make YouTube patient education videos at TheDoctorDoodle on YouTube.  One of the things that I like best about this program is the camaraderie between residents and the faculty.  My advice to prospective residents: Look for a program that offers you a solid education and has a friendly supportive atmosphere; you deserve both.

Tom Hilts, DO 
Core Faculty 

I graduated from the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1993 and then moved west to Grand Rapids for residency in family medicine.  I then drove the Alaska Highway to Ft. Wainwright in Fairbanks, AK, for 4 years of active duty in the U.S. Army to pay back a medical school scholarship.  My wife, 2 sons and 2 dogs returned to Grand Rapids, whereupon I joined a family practice group.  I began teaching with the GRMEP Family Med residency in 2008, where I was enlisted as the Evidence-Based Medicine Curriculum Coordinator.  Over the last 5 years, my interest in EBM has morphed into a full-time position as deputy editor for an online evidence-based clinical resource.  I now teach part-time and see patients when I can cram them into my schedule.  I also enjoy coaching baseball, mountain bike riding, going to the movies and other fun stuff with my now 4 children, still 1 wife and 2 dogs.  I have been to the Dominican Republic on a medical mission trip, loved it and plan to return in the future; I may add Kenya next.

Harland Holman, MD 
Core Faculty

I have gone from University of Michigan (undergrad) to Michigan State (med school/CHM) back to U of M (residency) and now back to MSU Family Medicine Residency.  In between, I did 5 years in a private practice in Cold Spring, KY and 2 years in an FQHC in Muskegon.  Each place has taught me about people, medicine, and myself.  I have been blessed by an amazing wife, who is my pediatric consultant, and 2 daughters.  So, who do I route for on Saturdays?  Soon it may be my daughter’s teams on the soccer field.  As the only attending with a Y chromosome at the Spectrum Family Medicine Residency Clinic, I have an interest in men’s health, and I also enjoy procedures, group visits, nutrition, holistic care, refugee care, and I’m learning to use our US machine. I hope you consider joining our awesome residency that works on putting the joy back in family medicine.

McGovern PhD MSW
Behavioral Science Faculty


Jean Thomas, MD 
Core Faculty


I attended the Wayne State University undergraduate spending my junior year abroad in Munich, Germany. Following this I attended the University of Michigan medical school. I graduated from the Grand Rapids Family Practice Residency in 1993. My wife and I loved Grand Rapids so we decided to make it our home. Soon after finishing residency I joined the core faculty and have loved playing a role helping residents grow into excellent family doctors for the past 20 years. My wife and I have three children (just sent the oldest to college in August 2013). My responsibilities include the dermatology curriculum, substance abuse curriculum and inpatient rounding. Also I am the lead physician in the Wege 4200 faculty practice. I enjoy music, movies, reading, theater and travel. I believe our strength in this residency is a commitment to excellent patient care, quality resident education, and healthy relationships between all members of the healthcare team.

Marc Travis, MD
Core Faculty


I joined the GRFMR faculty in 2006, two years after completing my residency training here in Grand Rapids.  My path to medicine also included medical school at Michigan State and undergrad at the University of Michigan. (Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I didn't realize that was taboo). I was actually born at St. Mary's Hospital before leaving for Chicago as a child (my life has come full circle). My duties for the residency include leading the Orthopedics/Sports Medicine curriculum, rounding on our inpatient academic service, precepting, and helping with the practice management education of the residents.  I also teach with the Michigan State University medical students as the assistant clerkship director for family medicine. I try to stay active by playing softball and basketball.  My interests include traveling, fantasy football, reading, and spending time with my family (trying to keep up with my two boys).

Gwen Unzicker MD
Core Faculty

I joined the faculty of my residency alma mater in 2012, after spending three years at the Holland Community Health Center in Holland, MI.  I attended medical school at Southern Illinois University, graduating in 2005, and moved to West Michigan to be near family (let’s be honest – it was to be near my baby nephew, who now has 4 younger siblings).  I graduated from GRFMR in 2008 and shortly after the second family medicine center site opened in 2011, I came back to join the team, starting in January 2012.  My time spent working with the underserved has ignited a passion for understanding health disparities and my area of curricular focus is health literacy.  I love working side-by-side with residents and medical students, seeing the proverbial light come on when they learn something new - I also learn a lot from them!  I am also interested in practice improvement, working to promote a team-based approach to patient care and making the health center feel like home for our residents.  Outside of work, I enjoy doting on the above mentioned nieces and nephews, traveling, watching quality TV and movies and trying the fare at many of our local restaurants.  

Vic Wagner, PhD
Behavioral Science Faculty

I have been the behavioral science coordinator of the residency program since 1991. It has been an amazing experience watching the program grow and evolve. It has been a real pleasure to see some of the residents that I taught now being valued faculty members.  In my role I work closely with the medical faculty to integrate behavioral science into all aspects of patient care as the patient cannot be separated from the person and their story. Our program emphasizes a patient centered approach and work to understand the patient's story. The idea of story and narrative is central to my work as a psychologist where I utilize a narrative approach with my patients. I also work as a consultant at two acute rehab facilities. I enjoy working with people where there are medical problems and psychological problems that are affecting patients and their families. I believe that the more than 20 years I have worked with physicians allows me to work well with multidisciplinary teams including physicians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and nurses. When I am not working, I enjoy going to the gym, jogging and listening to music. I am married and have two children, a 23 year old daughter who just went to Ecuador on a Fulbright fellowship and a son who is a senior in high school.

Alicia Crispin
Program Coordinator

Ihave lived in Grand Rapids for over 25 years and have been with Family Medicine for almost that long.  It has been fun to watch the residency and city grow over that course of time.  During that time I have been able to meet and work with many amazing family physicians and watch some of them grow from being a scared intern at orientation to a strong, teaching, core faculty member.  When I'm not at work, I enjoy watching sports.  I'm a huge Detroit Tigers fan and even though I'm surrounded by some pretty serious "Sparties", I always cheer for the maize and blue.  I enjoy spending time with friends and family and if we're not at a sporting event, there is always something going on in West Michigan or downtown Grand Rapids to take part in.