CAROLYN Joyce (Virden) BROWN
CAROLYN Joyce (Virden) BROWN
Dr. carolyn V Brown was born in Hereford, Texas on 21 November 1937. Her parents were tenant farmers. Dr. Brown’s mother was thought to be dyslexic and finished the tenth grade. Her father completed the eighth grade. Nonetheless, Dr. Brown was a curious student and excelled in school. Dr. Brown’s parents divorced when she was ten and soon thereafter she was raised by her paternal grandmother (Alice – born 1881) whom she credits with helping her to become (as Dr. Brown says) “all that I am and hope to be for good I owe to you”. Her grandmother had to leave school after the third grade.
Dr. Brown had numerous childhood experiences that contributed to her decision to become a physician. When she was five, she contracted polio and was hospitalized. As the child of a tenant farmer, Dr. Brown worked in fields pulling cotton, helping with crops and milking cows. Dr. Brown’s father served as a Marine during World War II and then worked in the Texas oil fields upon his return where he subsequently lost a leg during an accident on a derrick. Both her own experiences of polio and seeing the challenges that her father faced after losing a leg led Dr. Brown to pursue a career in medicine.
Dr. Brown graduated Valedictorian from Hereford High School in 1956 and was the first member of her immediate family to complete high school She earned a B.A. in Chemistry and Biology from Harden-Simmons University (Abilene, Texas) in 1960, magna cum laude, and then went on to Bowman Gray School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Dr. Brown was accepted to all of the Medical Schools then in Texas but chose Bowman Gray because it was the second smallest Medical School in the United States.
In the cadaver lab at Medical School, Dr. Brown met her future husband, Dr. George Brown. They shared many personal, intellectual, philosophical, societal and future interests and had (as Fate would have it) the exact same birthday as to day, month and year. “Soul Mate Identification was on its way! During Medical School Dr. carolyn worked as a summer intern in a hospital in Tanzania, East Africa while George was working with tuberculosis in Haiti. The “Dr’s Brown” married three days before they graduated from Medical School on 6 June 1964. They even wrote their own ceremony! In that culture and time, it was “necessary” for a woman to change her last name at marriage. It was clear that many couldn’t pronounce or spell my birth name.
After completing her internship, Dr. Brown accepted a Commission in the U.S. Public Health Service in Anchorage, Alaska. There she served at the Assistant Chief of Outpatient Services and Field Health from 1965 to 1968. While service in this role, Dr. Brown served at the Coordinator of the Poison Control Center at the Alaska Native Medical Center. She also continued her work with the Alaska Native Health Aide training program to support health needs in rural Alaska communities. From 1968 – 1970 Dr. Brown completed a residency in Preventive Medicine and a Master of Public Health degree at the University of Hawai’i. Her thesis for this work dealt with local village health services in Micronesia.
Dr. Brown returned to Alaska in 1970 and served as the Chief of Community Health Epidemiology at the Alaska Native Area Health Service in Anchorage. In 1971, Dr. Brown earned Board Certification in Preventive Medicine. From 1972 through 1975 Dr. Brown provided health care at the street and free Open Door Clinic in Anchorage and at the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center (a totally new concept) in Fairview. Also during this time, Dr. Brown was a Consultant at the Anchorage Public Health facility regarding treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. Notably, in 1974, Dr. Brown served as the Medical Director of Alaska’s first Narcotic Drug Treatment Program (Methadone) clinic. Her work during the early 1970’s coincided with the Alaska Native Land Claims Act (ANLCA) and approval of the Alaska North Slope Pipeline. This was a time of very significant change in Alaska’s population and healthcare needs where Dr. Brown noted how women’s healthcare was consistently and substantially not adequately addressed.
Based on this experience, Dr. Brown decided to complete a Residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology (Ob-Gyn) and focus her work on supporting equitable effective healthcare for women. Notably, Dr. Brown completed the required 4-year residency at the University of Hawai’i Kapiolani Hospital in three years. She carried forward her research and efforts to promote and integrated standard medical care with preventive medicine and public health in support of indigenous, underserved and all populations. This came to include rotations at clinics in other Pacific areas such as Saipan and Hawai’i.
In 1975, Dr. Brown returned to Alaska again and set up a not-for-profit medical practice with her husband in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. This began another time of many firsts for Dr. Brown. She was the first woman Ob-Gyn to practice at Palmer’s Valley Hospital where she conducted over 2,500 deliveries, provided countless surgical procedures, became Chief of Staff and was Chief of Ob-Gyn. In 1981, Dr. Brown earned Board Certification in Ob-Gyn and became a Fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Dr. Brown’s medical practice sought to provide healthcare to women from all backgrounds, regardless of ability to pay. She accepted unique form of compensation to include moose, bear, caribou, fish as well as works of art. Another notable effort during this time included providing mobile health clinics for women in areas of the Mat-Su Valley where no such services existed. Using sites such as the Talkeetna Roadhouse, homes in the areas and even available hotel and motel units. These events were community events. Dr. Brown offered routine health care to any and all women who came – regardless of ability to pay.
Alongside Dr. Brown’s clinical work in the 1980’s, she also served as a Clinical Instructor for the University of Washington Medical School to provide on-site instruction for medical students in Washington-Wyoming-Alaska-Montana-Idaho (WWAMI) program. Additionally, she served as the Medical Director of Alaska Planned Parenthood from 1984 – 1988.
Based on her enjoyment in teaching WWAMI students, Dr. Brown made a bold choice to take a faculty position in the University of Vermont College of Medicine (UVM). She served as an Assistant Professor of Ob-Gyn at UVM from 1988 – 1994 with appointment to the Admissions Committee and as the Resident Education Coordinator. While at UVM, Dr. Brown created a course in medical ethics for medical students and expanded a community health center outreach in rural Enosburg Falls, Vermont. She expanded health care to rural northern Vermont for women who otherwise had no access. She traveled to all hospitals in Vermont to provide the developing guidelines for identification and assistance with domestic violence. Additional U.S. outreach included membership on the National Academy of Science Institute of Medicine Committee on Primary Care for the publication: Primary Care – America’s Health in a New Era in 1996. From 1992-2000m Dr. Brown served on the editorial Board of the Journal, Female Patient.
From 1995 to 2000, Dr. Brown was the Medical Director of college student health at Johnson State College in Johnson, Vermont. She also served on the National Women’s Health Network Board of Directors (1996 – 1998) and on the Vermont Governor’s Commission on Women (1997 – 2001).
Dr. Brown’s notable local, state and national accomplishments were recognized by colleagues in Alaska. In 2001 she was recruited to serve as the Deputy Director for Public Health for Alaska. The new job brought Dr. Brown back to Alaska – this time to Juneau. She continued her national contributions to public health efforts as the Region X representative to the American Public Health Association (APHA) governing council (2002 – 2004).
A change of administration in Alaska in 2003 led Dr. Brown to work with a private practice in Juneau with a focus for post-menopausal women and elders. Then – an opportunity not to be missed! In 2004, she moved with her husband to Suna-Migori in Kenya, East Africa to be the Medical Director of the Matoso Clinic with the Lalmba Association. Dr. Brown’s work in Africa was (her words) an additional “life-changer”. There was HIV, tuberculosis, cholera, worms, domestic violence, starvation, violence, lay-midwifery deliveries in most areas, malaria and the host of tropical illnesses seldom see in the United States. It became a significant victory when women and children were allowed to be tested for HIV and then to be treated. The stigma was rampant.
Although Dr. Brown returned to Juneau in 2006 where she still lives, she maintains an active and involved relationship with the George Brown Health Scholarship Program that George and she began in 2007 for Kenya high school graduates who wish to have a health career in Kenya. Know what? It worked and is working! She resumed a limited practice until 2014 when she retired. Dr. Brown remains active in many civic, health, wellness efforts, the League of Women Voters, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), Alzheimer’s Resource Alaska and the JAMHI Health and Wellness Program. So many possibilities remain open. Through her work with the League of Women Voters she arranged a grant to distribute copies of a history about Elizabeth Peratrovich to all Alaska schools.
With her husband, George, they have two children. Rachel Brown-Chidsey is an Associate Professor of School Psychology and special Education at the University of Southern Maine. Benjamin Brown is an Attorney and Director of Development for Perseverance Theatre in Douglas, Alaska. Our dear George died in December 2016 and the Legacy lives on.