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Dr. Clair Mills Callan

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1940

Medical School

University College of London



Career Path

Diagnostic and therapeutic services: Anesthesiology
Dr. Clair Mills Callan


Dr. Callan was the first woman president of Lake County Medical Society.
Dr. Callan was the first woman editor of a special edition of Connecticut Medicine.


Perhaps attending my mother's graduation from medical school influenced me. I have wanted to be a doctor since I was 7 years old. I'm not sure why, but at that age I knew I did not want to be a nurse or teacher, just a doctor.


Dr. Clair Callan has served as vice president of science, quality, and public health standards for the American Medical Association. Although she originally followed in her mother's footsteps and embarked on a career in anesthesiology, she found it difficult to reconcile the demands of her work with the needs of her family. She moved into medical administration as a way to better balance her career and home life, and has since won great professional recognition as well as personal job satisfaction.

Since childhood, she says she was drawn to medicine as a career. "I have wanted to be a doctor since I was seven years old...Perhaps I was influenced by my mother's graduation from medical school." Drawing on that inspiration, and moving from a career in anesthesiology to pharmaceuticals research, then into an administrative role in medicine, Dr. Callan believes she can help young women physicians and medical students shape their careers, "mainly by showing that much can be done, that it is ok to change directions, and that one can become a leader by showing commitment, willingness, and a sense of focus to reaching a goal."

Early in her career Dr. Callan was a staff anesthesiologist at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, from 1972 to 1975. She later worked for the state of Connecticut, as medical director of the Department of Income Maintenance, where she administered medical aspects of Connecticut's Medicaid program, from 1978 to 1984. She was director of medical affairs for Abbott Laboratories from 1985 to 1992, where she did critical research on new anesthesia products. The team she led completed the global development of a new drug within two years, and their work included innovative research on kidney function that led to the conclusion that the kidney is a metabolic as well as an excretory organ. Before joining the staff of the American Medical Association (AMA) in 1999, Dr. Callan was vice president of Abbott's Hospital Products Division.

As vice-president for Science, Quality, and Public Health Standards at the American Medical Association, Dr. Callan is responsible for AMA programs in Medicine and Public Health, Science and Community Health Advocacy, Alcohol Policy Advocacy, Tobacco Policy Advocacy, Science, Research and Technology, Clinical Quality Improvement, and Disaster Preparedness.

Dr. Callan holds an honorary fellowship from the Faculty of Anesthesia, Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland, and is a Fellow of the Institute of Medicine, Chicago. She was also awarded the Certified Physician Executive (C.P.E.) board certification from the American College of Physician Executives. She is married to fellow physician John P. Callan, M.D., and the couple has four children.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

Once I started I was not aware of any major obstacle. There was concern about finances, and if there would be enough to see me through medical school. But we were a small class with few women, the majority of whom were nuns. We formed a tight network and provided support to one another both academically and socially. As a class we went to team sports meetings, etc., where the girls cheered the boys on.

How do I make a difference?

Because I have had a very different medical career, women physicians and students have told me that I have served as a role model, mainly by showing that much can be done, that it is OK to change directions and that one can become a leader by showing commitment, willingness and a sense of focus to reaching a goal.

Who was my mentor?

My mother was a role model for me in that she went to medical school and practiced anesthesia while raising 6 children. However, my most influential mentor was my first non-physician boss, Steven Press, an attorney who was the director of Connecticut's Medicaid program when he hired me to do evaluations of potential recipients of Medicaid and other programs. He saw some potential in me and promoted me to Medical Director of the program, even though I had no management experience. He then let me do my thing, but was always available for advice and consultation. He once told me that he really enjoyed watching me grow into and beyond the program. He was a very fair and supportive manager, and always went to bat for his employees, even when he had to make tough decisions.

How has my career evolved over time?

I started my career in the traditional role of intern, resident and then physician. However, as the daughter of an anesthesiologist, who always said I would never go into anesthesia (but did!), I was very aware of the demands the specialty placed on both the physician and her family. When I saw that my (four) children were getting very upset any time I had to go to the hospital for an emergency I decided I had better drop out of anesthesia, at least until they were a little older. So I stopped practicing, and became very involved in my community, boy scouts, girls scouts, swim club, garden club, junior women etc. My friends and neighbors were also involved in these activities and life became very busy. My volunteer responsibilities gave me many opportunities to manage projects, negotiate with people and organizations to achieve some common goal, to do both strategic thinking and project management. As a volunteer I became a manager, with the ability to do many tasks at the same time. In a few years' my time was so busy and yet I was not making any money. So I looked for an opportunity to do some part time work while the children were in school. I was hired by the State of Connecticut to do eligibility evaluations based on clinical information of applicants for the assistance programs. After a few months I was offered the job of Medical Director, a full time position. I was able to negotiate flexible hours so that I would be home when the children came home from school. I held this position for six years. During that time I reorganized the procedures for doing evaluations and cleared up a several month backlog. I also developed the gatekeeper program for the State, learned how to negotiate with the Federal Government to introduce pilot programs for the developmentally disabled people usually not covered under their programs and to deal with legislators who failed to realize the impact that their votes on cutting budget dollars would do to our programs.

I also became very involved with AMWA at this time. I hosted the Constitutional Convention that was held in Hartford in 1980, following which the by-laws were completely rewritten and the direction of the organization was changed to reach out to younger women physicians and students. In 1983 I was president-elect when the immediate past president, Dr. Anne Barlow asked me if I would interview with Abbott Laboratories, where she was a vice president. I knew nothing about the pharmaceutical industry but my husband thought that the interview would be a good experience for me. I was offered an entry level position and we decided we should try this new environment. Six months after I joined Abbott, Dr. Barlow retired and her successor reorganized her medical unit and promoted me to Director, Medical Affairs. Several promotions and reorganizations later I was named Venture Head for an anesthetic agent. This was equivalent to running a small global business. I was responsible for developing this drug on a global basis, with a very broad label claim. To complicate things we had a very aggressive competitor who made it his mission to make sure that the drug was not approved for use by the FDA. To his chagrin it was approved, in a quite fast time and is now the leading anesthetic agent. I had a small but dedicated team who worked superbly together and we completed all parts of this large project early or on time, and within budget. 6 months before we were scheduled to submit the NDA to the FDA I was promoted to Vice President, Medical and Regulatory Affairs and Advanced Research. I was also allowed to remain Venture Head for our project. At this point I had both a large staff and budget and several different projects to manage.

When senior management at the company changed I was concerned that my role might also changed. The American Medical Association contacted me to consider joining their staff as Vice President of Science and Technology. I have been a long time member of that organization and believe that it is very valuable to physicians, but unfortunately fewer and fewer physicians seem to agree with me. I joined the staff with a goal of trying to make the Science program more meaningful for both physicians and the public. Shortly after I joined there was a major restructuring and I acquired both Clinical Quality and Public Health units to manage. My staff and I are making some strides in our goal to bring to life the mission of the AMA "to promote the art and science of medicine and the betterment of the public health."

As you can see my career has taken many different turns, but I still believe that I am practicing medicine, although I do not provide direct patient care. In each of my different roles I have added to my skills as a manager, a businessperson, a leader and facilitator.