After three decades, hanging up the stethoscope

By Jesse Mayfield Sheehan

Jesse Mayfield-Sheehan/Collegian

Dr. Alan Calhoun has worked at University Health Services at the University of Massachusetts since 1981. He has seen countless patients and co-workers come and go and witnessed big changes in the world of health care. He has worked his way up from staff physician to medical director to interim director of UHS.

But Calhoun is now 64 years old, and has decided to retire at the end of this year.

Calhoun, who studied history at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, was slightly interested in medicine as an undergraduate, but became convinced to join the field after working with children who were disabled as a camp counselor one summer in his hometown of Rochester, N.Y.

Some of the other counselors were interested in medicine and Calhoun found working with the children to be a rewarding experience. The other counselors’ encouragement, joy in helping others and an interest in science is what ultimately led him to become a doctor.

He went to medical school at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he graduated in 1975. After completing his medical training at the Albany Medical Center, he opened a small private practice with a man from Adams named Jim Peterson called “Adams Internists.” Peterson still works at the practice to this day.

Calhoun’s wife was not happy living in the small town of Adams, and wanted to go to Amherst to get a Ph.D at the University of Massachusetts. So Calhoun started working at UHS, expecting to be there for a couple years while his wife attained her degree. But he wound up staying for the long run.

“A lot of it had to do with the work environment as well as the community. (Amherst) is a great place to bring up children,” Calhoun said. “I think I got addicted to the academic world in a way I wasn’t expecting, the ebb and flow of the seasons.

“It’s clearly challenging when the semesters are here … but we also enjoy, as I think a lot of UMass staff do, a sigh of relief to take a breather in the summer.”

Dr. Warren Morgan, a senior staff physician who has worked at UHS since 1988, spoke highly of Calhoun’s qualities as a doctor.

“I think he cares about his patients. He’s well respected by his patients and diligent in his efforts to do the right thing and try to do what’s best for the patients’ welfare and give the best possible advice,” Morgan said.

Calhoun became the medical director of UHS in 1996. As medical director, he supervised the medical staff, oversaw the creation of clinical policy, made sure UHS was re-accredited every three years, served as clinical director of the UHS Laboratory, and was a member of the UHS Leadership Group.

Last July, Calhoun became interim director when then Bernette Melby left the position. In the new position, Calhoun noted, he has been doing a lot of the same things he did as medical director, but he is now responsible for all of UHS and he manages the collaboration between UHS and other campus entities.

Dr. Richmond Rosen, a staff physician who has been at UHS since 1998, praised Calhoun’s tenure as director.

“Dr. Calhoun is always fair, he listens to everybody’s point of view, he takes everything into consideration before he makes decisions,” Rosen said.

“I always think of Alan as having sort of quiet determination,” added UHS Associate Director Maria Coach. “He has this way about him that he is able to sort of dispel some of the anxieties that the staff had had during this turbulent time.”

Coach also said that even though Calhoun has only been director for a year, he has played a big part in important matters for UHS, such as the transition from manual to electronic medical records and the implantation of a policy set to go into effect this July will ban tobacco on campus.

Calhoun said UHS has seen a gradual decline of services over the last 30 years – between the loss of the in-patient unit, cuts in staffing, the loss of UHS’ Health Maintenance Organization that provided prepaid care to students until the late ‘90s, the loss of 24-hour service a few years ago, last year’s cuts in hours and the loss of pharmacy services.

One way, he said, UHS is trying to turn things around is with surveys sent out to students a month ago. The surveys, which ask students about the types of services they want from UHS, were sent out for the purpose of revising UHS’ 20-year-old mission statement, which Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance James Sheehan said does not reflect the changes in the health care industry of the past two decades.

Last year, when some students gathered outside UHS to protest the proposed cuts in hours and services, Calhoun had mixed feelings. On the one hand, he said, it felt awful to him to see that people were protesting outside the place where he worked. But on the other hand, he said, it felt wonderful to him that students cared enough about UHS to protest.

Calhoun said that such an involved student body is just what UHS needs to be able to turn the corner on its 30-year decline.

“These sorts of things cannot be done in the dark,” he said. “They have to be open and there has to be campus participation, and that’s why we sent the survey out.”

UHS is currently conducting a search for Calhoun’s replacement. According to Morgan, who is a member of the search committee, the search is being overseen by the Department of Administration and Finance. Ruth Yanka, the executive director for Administration and Finance Operations, is chairing the search.

Morgan said officials from the Department of Administration and Finance have compiled a list of qualities they are looking for in the candidates. Some UHS staff members have contributed to the list.

“Naturally, we’re looking for someone who has leadership skills, who has medical knowledge,” Morgan said. “Someone who knows how to address staffing issues, who knows how to address other administrative issues, including financial ones.

“It’s a tall order. We’re looking for a lot of varied qualities all the way from the clinical side to the administrative side, which is a lot to ask for in a candidate,” he added.

Coach said the University is looking for someone who will be able to jump right into the new position as UHS director and start developing plans for the future. She said the surveys should be able to help with the new director’s transition.

Calhoun said he does not have any specific plans for what he will do after his retirement, but he wants to try some new activities outside of medicine. However, he said, he expects to eventually do volunteer work for some medically related cause.

Calhoun said he has faith in the members of the UHS staff and  is sure that they will be able to continue on after he leaves.

“I have confidence in the staff here,” he said. “Even though I’m departing, I’m aptly convinced this place will continue in the tradition of really high quality care. They’re really good people here.”


Jesse Mayfield-Sheehan can be reached at [email protected]