R. Clay Burchell, MD

Clay Burchell


Dr. R. Clay Burchell passed away August 8, 2007 at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, surrounded by his four daughters and loving wife, Sally.  Born in 1928 in Chicago, the only son of Midwest furniture makers, Lorena and Robert Lawrence Burchell, Clay’s upbringing on a farm in the heartland of America shaped many of his later views.  Clay attended Kent School, MIT and the University of Buffalo Medical School.

Clay did his training and began his academic career at the University of Illinois under the tutelage of William Mengert, MD  Clay went on to become Chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Hartford Hospital, and later at the Lovelace Medical Center in Albuquerque.  Throughout his career he was active in the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and served as a Board Examiner (1971-1980).  Over the course of his career he was a faculty member at the University of Illinois, University of Vermont, University of Connecticut, and the University of New Mexico.

Dr. Burchell was a superb clinician, innovative clinical researcher, memorable teacher, and wonderful mentor.  His intellect and critical thinking allowed for remarkable, refreshing insights into many issues in OB/GYN.  Unexpected catastrophic pelvic hemorrhage remains a formidable problem, but Clay’s insight, research, teaching and training in surgical innovations remain life saving.  His surgical teachings on vaginal hysterectomy and ovarian cystectomy are noteworthy and remain applicable, not abrogated by modern robotic laparoscopic skills.  At Hartford, he initiated a program of sexual counseling and at Lovelace he established a model midwifery program.

Clay’s insights were not limited to the science of medicine, but more broadly to the humanity of medicine.  His keen insight into the physician-patient interaction after complications or untoward events is helpful to the grieving physician and patient.  His teachings on the management of people should have been part of any MBA degree in health systems.  Physician group dynamics, from residents to departmental colleagues to professional organization, were his turf.  He also searched constantly for ways to make the patients, women, more informed and more comfortable while in the male-dominated hospital setting.

In later years, Dr. Burchell’s contributions expanded beyond OB/GYN into much broader matters of public health.  He was intent on finding ways to deliver better care for less cost, in particular by leveraging midwives and other non-physician experts and professionals in the hospital.  These thoughts are summed up in a volume he co-authored, Reinventing Medical Practice (MGMA 2002).  His iconoclastic outlook gave him the courage to challenge traditional delivery and authority systems.  Clay was a paragon mentor and original thinker whose dedication and inspiration will be sorely missed.

Submitted by William Rayburn, MD, MBA
In collaboration with Sally Burchell


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