(May 27, 2011) The legacy started 100 years ago with James R. Hurley growing up on a Michigan potato farm and dreaming of becoming a doctor.
It continues to this day with the graduation of his 26-year old great-granddaughter Kelsey Hurley Walker, who represents the fourth generation of her family to earn a medical degree from the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Kelsey nearly went with another family legacy – horses. She enrolled at Colorado State University and graduated with a degree in equine science – an interest spurred by her grandfather, a doctor who delivered in the vicinity of 5,000 babies, but who also bred horses and dogs.
“He gave me my first horse when I was 9 years old,” she says.
See the Hurley Family slide show.
When she recognized that her love of horses was less an occupation than a hobby, she started thinking seriously about medical school.
“I didn’t apply to many schools, just two, and I was trying to decide between them. I remember him saying ‘I don’t know why you would want to go anywhere else but CU.’”
And so she did, partly because she agreed with him and partly because she was worried about him. He died during her medical school orientation week.
“I still cry when I think about it,” she says.
During her first semester, classes were still at the campus at Ninth Avenue and Colorado Boulevard, where her father and grandfather earned their degrees.
“It was kind of nice to see pictures of my dad, grandfather and great-grandfather when I walked down the hall.”
Back to that potato farm
James R. Hurley spent his youth working on his father’s farm in upstate Michigan.
He had to leave school in eighth grade to help on the farm, but later returned to high school and graduated at the age of 21. From there, he went to the University of Michigan for pre-med, and then headed west to the CU School of Medicine. After graduating in 1918 - part of an eight-member graduation class - he started a practice in the San Luis Valley, ending up in Alamosa.
“My grandfather practiced until the day he died,” Kelsey’s father, Grant Allen Hurley, MD, said. “Back then, that was your vocation and avocation, and it was seven days a week.”
Kelsey’s grandfather Grant W. Hurley graduated in 1952 after serving in the South Pacific in World War II. (His brother, Lloyd, also graduated from the school and went into orthopedic surgery in Albuquerque.) Grant W. Hurley opened a practice in Pueblo, where his son, Grant Allen Hurley joined him for five years after graduating in 1979.
But Grant Allen Hurley and his wife, April, wanted to raise a family in the San Luis Valley, so they moved. He spent 15 years there as a family medicine doctor.
Rural family medicine legacy
Kelsey Hurley Walker at graduation with her father, Grant Hurley, who
When he started his family practice, Grant Allen Hurley realized he took after his father and grandfather in that he had a hard time saying no.
“I worked a lot like my father and grandfather,” he said. “You have to balance compassion and a generous nature with protecting your family and personal time. That takes a lot of strength and is difficult to do.”
Fifteen years ago, a friend approached him about a position in emergency medicine in Alamosa. The regular hours beckoned, and he made the move.
Kelsey Walker sees that and it worries her. Married to medical school classmate Ely Walker, the couple are moving to Fort Worth, Texas, for their residency years. They then plan to go into rural family medicine in southern Colorado as did her father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
“I really struggled with the decision to go into medicine because I knew I wanted to have a family some day,” Kelsey Walker said. “My father was in family practice, and he worked a lot. We always understood that he was taking care of people and doing good things, but he wasn’t around sometimes.
“I still struggle with how I’m going to balance rural family medicine with having a family.”
Her father sympathizes.
“They’re going to have to be careful and smart about it. Family medicine is really an interesting vocation in that it’s one of the most difficult, particularly if you’re doing full spectrum care, from deliveries to newborn care through end of life and nursing homes.”
There’s a good reason why saying no was so hard.
“I worked hard because I was having fun," he says. "I have had three mentors, and my father was one of them. All three shared one thing: they really enjoyed what they did. I remember growing up and seeing my father happy when the phone rang during dinner. He’d throw his napkin down with a big smile on his face and say, “I’ve got to go do a (Caesarean) section!”
“He was always so happy to go to work. No wonder I wanted to go into medicine. And Kelsey saw the same thing when she was growing up because I was the same way.”
Kelsey Walker agrees, saying she watched her grandfather working into his 70s and loving it. Rural family medicine fits with her goals.
“I always want to have something to offer,” she says. “I know I can really help a community.”
Her classmates apparently agree. They awarded her the annual Hippocrates Award, which goes to a future physician that the class decides epitomizes the “ideals and noble traditions of the profession of medicine as set forth by Hippocrates."
Grant Allen Hurley has faith that his daughter has a bright future in medicine and offers advice to her and other new doctors.
“Go forward and be happy and have fun. This is tremendously rewarding.”
He says he gets frustrated with doctors who say the changes in insurance, paperwork and politics are ruining the profession.
“When I hear that, I say you are focusing on the wrong thing. Medicine is still there. Once the door is closed, it’s still two individuals. It’s no different from 100 years ago. Don’t be dissuaded by all the naysayers. Remember why you’re there. Be kind. If you do those things, you’re not going to have many problems.”