A passion for patients—and animals, too

Clifford Hall, FACP.

Clifford A. Hall, FACP

Occupation: Recently came out of retirement—a second time—to help Samaritan Health Services set up an internal medicine residency program at a planned college of osteopathic medicine in Lebanon, Ore.


Age: 65.

Current residence: Kings Valley, Ore.

Hometown: Webster, Mass.

Family: Married with three adult children.

Medical school: Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Residency: University of California, San Francisco and the National Institutes of Health.

Specialty: Pulmonary disease and critical care medicine.

Something I wished I'd learned in medical school: We were trained to be very clinical and detached in our relationships with our patients. It took me awhile to get past that.

I became a hospitalist because: It became obvious to me that this model of practice was not only going to become widespread, but that it was a better model of patient care. Also, our local medical center needed to establish a hospitalist service and I felt that I had the background and skill set to help get the program going. I loved it, and it has grown and been very successful.

First job: My first job was at a group practice in Corvallis, Ore., and it lasted almost 30 years. As my practice went along, I became more involved in taking care of older patients, so a lot of my satisfaction was in taking care of people with chronic diseases, in talking to them and cheering them up.

Hardest medical lesson learned: You can't please everyone, and sometimes you have to stop trying. It took me a long time to learn not to take things personally-like if a patient left my practice.

Most meaningful professional accomplishment: I hope it is what I am doing right now, setting up a new program.

Future goals: Finishing the residency program in 2-3 years is one. My other passion is developing a wildlife refuge in Kings Valley. We own 160 acres; there's a good-sized river, seasonal creeks and wetlands, and a herd of about 50-60 elk that come in and winter on our property. I'm working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife; we've planted thousands of trees in the riparian zones and have restored wetlands.

Career advice for hospitalists coming out of residency: First, really enjoy your patients. With all the paperwork, it can be easy to think of each one as a burden, but they offer so much and you can learn so much. Share something about yourself with them during your encounters. I can't think of another profession that allows you to have an intimate relationship with people from all walks of life like medicine does. The second thing is to live within your means. I see so many physicians earn good money, and then spend more than they earn. And third, make sure you have balance in your life.

Personal heroes: Robert Kennedy absolutely had a huge impact on me in the 1960s, and losing him was devastating. My personal hero was an oncologist mentor and friend, who was a World War II POW in Japan. He was an outstanding human being, a tremendous physician, and my substitute parent in Oregon. He died when he was 90, and I'm a better person because of him.

Favorite ways to spend free time: I'm a putterer. I love to be out on my 160 acres doing things. I have tractors and equipment, and we run some cattle out there in the summer. I have lots of projects, from farm repair to yard work to home repair and gardening. I could be busy 24 hours a day.

Pet peeve: The emphasis on religion in this country, and what it does to the way people interact with each other. I'd like to see more tolerance.

Favorite author or poet: Most of my reading is medical and financial journals, so when I read novels it is more for relaxation and escape. I like Michael Crichton.

Most recent book read: “Across the River and Into the Trees” by Ernest Hemingway. We just went on a bike trip to Italy, so I took this book along because it's set in Venice.

Item I can't live without: My wife, though I probably shouldn't refer to her as an object. She's a joy to me. An actual object would be my eyeglasses, because I can spot wildlife with them. Eyeglasses have seriously improved my quality of life.

Most surprising thing about me: I cry very easily. I can be very forceful and passionate about my opinions, so people get the impression that I'm absolutely tough, but I cry at almost every movie I go to. I've always been that way.

My biggest regret: That I didn't say “I'm sorry” enough to people who are dead and gone or who I lost contact with. In our lifetimes we inevitably hurt people, and I wish I could apologize for some of the things I said, or the way some relationship worked out when I was young.

If I weren't a physician, I would be: A wildlife biologist. Sometimes I think I have spent my life helping human beings survive, only so they could go on to mess up the planet. I love animals and wildlife and I have such a respect for nature.