It’s easy for Jim Fearl, MD, who retired from his medical practice 10 years ago, to explain why he has chosen to remain active at the School of Medicine: “I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with the medical school.”
A member of the MD Class of ’65, he has been spending Friday mornings on the Hill for the past three years, volunteering as a clinical evaluator for OHSU’s African American Dementia and Aging Project (AADAPt) – a longitudinal study of brain aging in elderly African Americans in Portland.
“The Alumni Association office called me one day, described the project and asked if I was interested,” he said. “I met Fred Miller, the PI, and liked what the study was trying to do. I really look forward to Friday mornings. I now remember the study participants as they come around for their annual evaluation.”
There are traditional ways for alumni to remain active at OHSU — reunions, invitations to campus events, and Continuing Medical Education offerings — but Dr. Fearl’s choice to be an active volunteer allows him opportunities to share his knowledge and stay engaged with issues in the School of Medicine.
"It was hard work in 1965 and it still is. But I like to be busy, and I still love medicine."
- Jim Fearl, MD
Fred Miller, MS, Director of the AADAPt study, values the contributions of alumni like Dr. Fearl. "Jim brings a wealth of experience and perspective to our project," he said. "His humanistic approach with our study participants has made their involvement more meaningful than simply statistics on a page.
"The importance of alumni engagement in all of our missions cannot be overstated,” said Dean Mark Richardson. “Their expertise and experience are irreplaceable.”
Born and raised in Portland, Ore., Dr. Fearl followed his father, Clifford L. Fearl, MD, into medicine – but not without a stern piece of fatherly advice. “If you really want to be a doctor, be sure you know you want to be a doctor.” He completed his MD degree in 1965 and interned at the Fresno County Hospital, intending to practice in a surgical sub-specialty.
A two-year active-duty Air Force commitment as a flight surgeon at K.I. Sawyer Strategic Air Command Base in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula opened up new horizons. “I discovered I really liked flying in fast jets and the rapport with the fighter pilots,” he said.
When he and his wife, Darle, returned to Portland after a three-year OB-GYN residency at Temple University in Philadelphia, Penn., he went into practice with his father – a partnership that lasted for 10 years until his father’s retirement. Dr. Fearl continued to practice at a number of Portland locations for another 20 years, and fulfilled his love for aircraft by volunteering for the Oregon Air National Guard for 24 years. He was activated in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm.
Dr. Fearl became an active alumnus with the School of Medicine upon his father’s death in 1989, when his mother endowed a scholarship in his memory.
“My father always had a passion for teaching,” he said. “He was selected to receive the first Oliver M. Nesbit Teaching award by the class of '64. He was very active in the teaching of residents in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, and had an active role in the OB-GYN residency program at Emanuel, as well as with their nursing program.”
Dr. Fearl’s involvement with the school snowballed from there.
He has volunteered for almost a decade on the School of Medicine Alumni Council, and is an emeritus trustee of the OHSU Foundation. In addition to his weekly commitment to the AADAPt study, Dr. Fearl contributes his time interviewing prospective medical students – a commitment that he says gives him a deeper understanding of the School of Medicine today.
“I’ve interviewed over 140 applicants since I began. It’s always interesting reading their applications, talking with them and then writing the report for the Admissions Committee. When I see a student accepted whom I interviewed I’ve always tried to follow up four years later, as graduation approaches, and talk with them about how they have changed and their decision about the choice of specialty and their future career.”
The advice his father gave him more than 45 years ago is still relevant to today’s students. “It was hard work in 1965 and it still is,” he said. “But I like to be busy, and I still love medicine.”
Pictured: (top L to R) Fred Miller, MS, and Jim Fearl, MD; (bottom) Dr. Fearl conducts research