Bob Hartmann

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!

Bob Hartmann with his family.

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.

Related Content:

On the role of institutional support in community-driven change

Bob Hartmann and Irwin Venick respond to Gillian’s question about how they would approach or encourage others to approach similar student and/or community-led projects today. Bob provides insight into what the Coalition did right and what it could have done… Continued

Caryl Carpenter talks about the origins of the Tennessee Primary Care Association

Caryl Carpenter, former administrator of the Mountain People’s Health Councils (MPHC) of East Tennessee, talks about formation of the Tennessee Primary Care Association. Recorded on May 17, 2017, as a part of a panel discussion at a reunion of the… Continued

Bob Hartmann on the Coalition’s pre-Center days

Bob Hartmann contrasts the informal and independent nature of the Coalition’s early, pre-Center days with that of the kind of student work he sees most often today. He draws on the metaphor that, prior to the formalization of the Coalition’s… Continued

Bob Hartmann on community medicine in Stoney Fork, TN

Bob Hartmann shares an inside look at the culture and people of Stoney Fork, Tenn., a fascinating anecdote which captures the realities of rural healthcare and community medicine.    Full footage of Bob Hartmann’s interview with Rick Davidson. Continued

Bob Hartmann on the importance of defining health beyond the physical

Bob Hartmann explains how his and many others’ formative experience in rural healthcare and community medicine with the Center for Health Services (CHS), Student Health Coalition (SHC), and Mountain People’s Health Councils (MPHC)—both as students and young professionals—left a lasting… Continued

Bob Hartmann on Appalachian culture and rural healthcare

Bob Hartmann shares a story about one of his patients while working with Mountain People’s Health Councils (MPHC) in Norma, Tenn. The narrative speaks to the influence of Appalachian culture on rural healthcare and community medicine.   Full footage of… Continued

An overview of Nancy Raybin’s SHC experience

Nancy Raybin recaps her time with the Student Health Coalition, from initial introduction during the spring semester and subsequent participation as a community organizer in St. Charles, Va. during the summer of 1973 to serving as co-Director–alongside Randy Hodges and… Continued

Bob Hartmann on the influence of cultural understandings about death and healing

Bob Hartmann shares about a Stoney Fork community member known as Uncle Ben and speaks to the impact of local culture—particularly as it regards matters of death and healing—on rural healthcare.   Full footage of Bob Hartmann’s interview with Rick… Continued

On the Center’s multi-phasic identities and development over time

Irwin Venick, Joe Little, and Bob Hartmann reflect on the birth and growth of the Center for Health Services (CHS) over time, tracing its stages of development from its initial Medical School partnership to its later social-science orientation and eventually,… Continued

“Community knows best”

Margaret Ecker facilitates a discussion among Irwin Venick, Bob Hartmann, and Joe Little about the philosophies and guiding principles of the SHC. All agree a central facet of the Coalition’s approach was a collective understanding of the local community’s role… Continued

Resistance to institutionalization: then and now

Bob Hartmann, Irwin Venick, and Joe Little reflect on how the SHC process became institutionalized and the widespread (but split) resistance to it. Bob concludes that if they’d known more about how universities work or approached the formalization process retrospectively,… Continued

Sir George Pickering visits East Tennessee

Bob Hartmann shares the story of his trip escorting Sir George Pickering, a well-respected hypertension specialist from England who was at the time visiting as a guest professor, and Dr. Grant Liddle and his family to East Tennessee as an… Continued

Bob Hartmann on his follow-up visits with the Bradleys in Petros, Tenn.

Bob Hartmann discusses the informal nature of community organizing characteristic of the Coalition’s work, both prior to and following summer health fairs. He shares the story of his and others’ regular visits back to communities during the academic year, highlighting… Continued


A comprehensive history (1974-2023) of a vibrant community-owned and community-operated clinic network in East Tennessee composed by Caryl Carpenter 2024   I came to East Tennessee in December of 1975. The Board of Directors of Mountain People’s Health Councils (MPHC)… Continued

The Legacy of the Stoney Fork (Tenn.) Health Clinic

from Caryl Carpenter, posted July 2023 Stoney Fork, Tennessee is an isolated area in the southwest corner of Campbell County.   Stoney Fork is approachable from three ways, all over unpaved gravel roads.  The road from the North comes in… Continued

Notes from the road: Mountain People’s Health Councils

[Story contributed by Caryl Carpenter] On October 23rd, 2017, a doctor, a lawyer, an archivist, and an old lady started out to make history, or more accurately, to record history – the history of Mountain People’s Health Councils (MPHC) in… Continued

Outside convention and against the grain: what set the Coalition apart

Bob Hartmann frames the Coalition work as having absolutely been outside convention and against the grain, in large part due to Bill Dow’s talent at generating and following through with big, extraordinary ideas. He then elucidates one of his favorite… Continued

On institutional benefit of student-led Coalition energy and notoriety

Margaret Ecker and Bob Hartmann discuss how the university seemed to be feeding off of and trying to control Coalition energy and notoriety in the effort to recruit foundation dollars. He shares the story of his trip escorting Sir George… Continued

Bob Hartmann on the National Health Service Corps and its role in his development as a young doctor

Bob Hartmann shares about his return to Mountain People’s Health Councils (MPHC) after graduating from Vanderbilt medical school and explains the role of the National Health Service Corps in his education and early professional development.   Full footage of Bob… Continued

SHC resistance to university-driven formalization: on the Center’s origins

Bob Hartmann shares the suspicion and intimidation he and others felt in the wake of developing the Center for Health Services (CHS), since the fuel behind it seemed to be coming primarily from and out of the Medical School for… Continued