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USA cardiologist Dr. Clara Massey has cared for patients between the ages of 19 and 103 – and for up to three generations within a family. Many of those patients have been with her since the start of her career.
“I am humbled by the trust and support of my patients,” she said. “As I cared for them, they cared for me.”
This year – after 25 years of dedicated service – Dr. Massey will retire from the University of South Alabama, where she served as professor of internal medicine and director of the division of cardiology.
“The last 25 years in cardiology have been a calling,” she said. “So many people sacrificed in order to give me this opportunity. I’ve had much to pay forward."
Dr. Massey grew up on a farm in the foothills of the Arkansas Ozarks – driving a tractor and hauling hay at the age of six. She played exhibition football in high school; her team was undefeated. After earning a degree in medical technology from Arkansas State University, she worked as a med tech and director of the chemistry lab at St. Bernard's Hospital in Jonesboro, Ark. It was there that she was urged to apply to medical school, and her tuition was paid for by her hometown family physician and by her family’s support.
After medical school, Dr. Massey chose to study the heart because in 1983, she thought, “how hard can it be? It’s just a pump with four chambers.”
Back then, medications were few, and catheter-based intervention and open heart surgery were in their infancy. Over the next few years, she watched and participated in the explosion of cardiovascular medicine. “I have been so fortunate,” she said. “It has been a magical time for cardiology, and more is on the horizon.”
Although her greatest joy has come from caring for patients, she said she’s also proud of her involvement in the development of the USA Heart Team. “It is an innovative way of providing evidence-based, high- quality, team-delivered care,” she said. “I am grateful for the partnership of Dr. Carl Maltese and Christy Paragone during this endeavor, in addition to my colleagues in the Division of Cardiology and the incredibly dedicated staff at USA. The development of the team was likely the most difficult task of my career, but also the most rewarding.”
Dr. Massey said her career has been enriched by so many people at USA that it would be impossible to list them all. “Hopefully my work ethic expressed my thank you to all of them,” she said. “However, there are two special employees who magnified my abilities and enriched my career – Kelley Day, my clinic nurse and partner in a commitment to patient-centered care, and Donna Gregory, my administrative support and moral compass throughout my career.”
During her time at USA, Dr. Massey participated in the training of more than 100 cardiology fellows and countless residents. “I’ve had a wonderful & rewarding career, and I believe I have succeeded in giving back,” she said. “It is now time to hand off to the next generation.”
If she could offer any advice to young physicians, it would be to "surround yourself with people who elevate your game, who place patient needs first and who hold you accountable for best care."
“It makes all the difference,” she said.
In the next phase of her life, Dr. Massey intends on taking care of herself and her family. She is looking forward to spending time with her daughter, Amanda, who is getting married next year; and her husband of more than 30 years, Dr. Charles Hamm.
The USA Department of Cardiology recently held a beach-themed sendoff for Dr. Massey. Click here to view more photos.
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