Loveland physician shares wisdom from a long medical career

Thomas J. Allen, MD, is a retired physician living in Loveland, Colo. He has served on the Northern Colorado Medical Society (NCMS) Board of Directors for many years and has been a member of the Colorado Medical Soci­ety and Northern Colorado Medical Society/Larimer County Medical Society for 45 years. Within CMS, he served on the Board of Directors, Council on Legislation, and Council on Practice Environment (COPE) along with various other committees over the years. Professionally, he was chief of medical staff of McKee Medical Center and department chair for medical staff, and held leadership positions for Northern Colorado Medical Practice Association, Mountain Shadows PHO and Col­orado Physicians Network.

1. Who inspired you to pursue medicine?

During my senior year at Wabash College I had some interactions with local physicians including our fraternity alumnus advisor who was a family doctor, from which I developed an interest in a career as a physician. At the time I had intended to attend law school and had already been accepted at Duke and Michigan, but came to the conclusion that I’d rather enter a less confrontational “helping profession.” Our college curriculum was rigorous enough that I only needed to pick up inorganic chemistry (night school) and organic chemistry (summer school) and began medical school at Indiana University the fall following my college graduation.

2. Could you share a patient story or career highlight? 

Well, it’s been a long time! After medical school I did a one-year internship and then went to work in emergency medicine. Two years later we decided to move to Conifer and start a family practice there. This was an era when board certification in family medicine was just becoming more widespread. There was a practice track toward certification upon which I embarked, and was proud to succeed in that, scoring in the upper quarter on the board test without a formal residency. I maintained board certification throughout my career.

The best part of medical practice, for me at least, has been the relationships as physician with (most) individual patients! One funny incident was with a patient in a nursing home who I had stopped to visit on my way home. It was after dark and, as a frequent bicycle commuter, I had a flashing safety beacon attached to the back of my belt. Unfortunately, I forgot to remove it for the visit, and as I was leaving the gentleman commented, “I never had a doctor with a taillight before!”

3. Why is your Colorado Medical Society and Northern Colorado Medical Society membership important to you?

It’s been my concern that the “government-insurance industry complex” has changed medicine in numerous ways, far more for the worse than the better. I could see this coming back in the 1980s. That was also the time when Colorado was going through a malpractice insurance crisis with the only insurer leaving the state, leading CMS physicians to form COPIC. It became more and more evident that physicians needed to be organized and act together for the sustenance of the profession. CMS and NCMS, together with specialty organizations and the American Medical Association, have sought to fill the role of organized action and representation. To this day these same issues and needs persist along with irresponsible scope of practice expansions, unhelpful regulations and others which, unfortunately as I would see it, have compromised health care and independent medical practice. 

4. Why did you get involved in the leadership of CMS and NCMS?

The more I saw of the problems the profession faced, the more I wanted to be part of the response that physicians of good conscience needed to bring. Once becoming involved in the societies’ efforts, leadership just seemed to come with the territory. I continue to believe that strong leadership is necessary for the good of our profession, but am concerned that at the current time our organizations may need to do more to gain the political and social strength needed to preserve the profession and make it once again attractive to upcoming members. While the medical students and residents I have met are truly amazing and inspiring people, there remains the problem of too many physicians leaving the profession, especially in primary care, compared to the newcomers seeking to fill those shoes.

5. What advice do you have for physicians-in-training?

First and most important, know what you know for sure, and ask for assistance from your peers when in doubt. Seek to work in a situation where you are shoulder to shoulder with colleagues and can freely interact and learn while providing high-quality care. Second, “interview” potential colleagues in any practice situation you consider and determine if they feel supported and respected by the systems in which they practice or are more viewed as replaceable cogs in a money-making machine! Find out how practice or health care systems view and have responded to physician burnout, and whether by really tackling “system” issues or by simply trying to somehow make their physicians “more resilient”! And third, take time for family and personal involvements and activities that are important to you. Do it now, not at some future moment when you “find time” for it!

6. What do you enjoy doing outside of medicine?

Well, I enjoy time with my wonderful wife of 54 years, Leslie, grown children and our one grandchild along with extended family and numerous pets. I’ve been somewhat of an exercise nut and enjoy running, walking and biking, including several week-long bike tours in the mountains and a best marathon of 2:59. We’ve traveled a bit including a nice cruise on the Rhine a few years ago. We live on some acreage just outside Loveland, are homebodies lately, and enjoy (most of) the visiting wildlife!

The Colorado Medical Society's monthly member spotlight series offers CMS members the opportunity to share their passions and wisdom from medicine and life in general, and allows the medical society to highlight members from around the state. All CMS members are eligible to be featured; contact to self-nominate or to nominate one of your colleagues. It takes as little as 20 minutes of your time!