Contributed by Bob Hartmann, February 2017
Rick Davidson has been badgering me for over a year to write a profile. Somehow he enlisted my wife, Mel Welsh, and now she is badgering me!
As I read the profiles on the web site, I am in awe. You people really made something of your lives. I’m proud to know most of you and to have worked long, hard hours with you and to have downed a few beers and laughed with you. You are special!
I grew up in Nashville in a most amazing era. I attended Father Ryan High, the only integrated high school in middle Tennessee at the time. Woolworth counter sit-ins were occurring; the Viet Nam war was beginning; and as a freshman in high school, I watched the Medicare Act vote live on TV (I had no idea what it meant, but it seemed important). In college at Notre Dame, I spent time in rural Mexico working on community projects. But our gang of four left early one summer when we were told we’d be shot if we continued our work on the community school project.
With that background, I entered Vanderbilt Medical School for what I thought would be four years of concentrating on the books and leaning medicine.
Dr. Amos Christie was our family pediatrician. He could not remember our names but knew me as #2 (second in birth order…#1 fell off a swing set and broke their vertebra; #3 had asthma; #6 eczema). I worked in the hematology lab at VUMC the summer before med school. Dr. Christie gave me an open invitation to brown bag lunch in his office. About once a month, we’d get together and gab over bologna sandwiches. He told me about this group of students working in East Tennessee doing something very un-Vanderbilt like. He urged me to seek out “stubborn as hell” Bill Dow and Rick Davidson and Tom John to learn about rural health care and community organizing. Dr. Christie had set the hook.
Joe Little hired me to be the lab director during the summer of 1972. That lead to being student co-director the following summer. Somehow over the next five summers, I talked program directors and professors into letting me work with the health fairs. I can’t remember the names of all the communities we worked in or the many, many students who shared the summers with us. I’ll never forget, however, the people in those communities. They shaped all of us.
I eventually worked my way back to East Tennessee to work with Mountain People Health Councils (MPHC) as a young National Health Service Corps physician. I took over for Rick Davidson and covered the three rural clinics for four years. Somewhere in there I was on the board of the Center for Health Services (CHS) and the Tennessee Primary Care Association.
I then moved to Madison, Wisc., where I was associate medical director for a small staff model community HMO. After freezing during 6 winters, Mel and I moved to Amador County in the Northern California foothills of the Sierra Nevada. I have been an internist in the small town of Jackson for 28 years. For 16 of those years I was also the local county Public Health Officer. About 10 years ago we began an affiliation with University of California at Davis School of Medicine as a training site for their rural PRIME program. I am the local director of med student education and we have a constant stream of national and international med students doing rural rotations here. All the time we continue to use white coattails for community organizing, something I learned over 40 years ago.
To say that SHC has had an influence on my career and life is an understatement. I’m not sure any of us can adequately put into words how “living” the experience molded us.
This is pretty dry. The crux of the SHC and the Center, and the myriad of other influences, is in the storytelling. More to follow…Byrd, Dow-Wow, Chancellor Heard, Sir George Pickering, castrating with John Davis (not castrating John) and, heaven help us, Rick Davidson stories.