Dr. Chisholm Sidelights
on this article
Summer 2010 issue (pdf)

Anatomy of an Alumnus

Examining the bodies of work of the 2010 alumni honorees

Thomas P. Chisholm, MD ’59, receives this year’s Humanitarian Award for his life-long commitment to providing medical care and advocacy to underserved populations domestically and abroad.

Thomas P. Chisholm, MD ’59

Voice of reason: “Few have the pleasure and honor of accepting a humanitarian award from a jury of one’s peers, still upright, alive and healthy. Joining an illustrious group of Humanitarian Award recipients has profound meaning and ensures an even greater appreciation for my alma maters. Just as or even more important, it is a distinction many more qualified that I should receive – many I know personally – some serving even now at home and abroad.”

Heart of the matter: For the last four years, Dr. Chisholm has overseen the establishment and operation of the Open Door Clinic, a free clinic in his hometown of Chippewa Falls, Wis. For 10 years, he served in several free clinics run by the Sisters of St. Joseph in the Twin Cities. He was a full-time doctor at the Santee Sioux Reservation Tribal Clinic in Flandreau, S.D., for over three years. Since 2000, he has travelled annually to Jalapa, Nicaragua, for medical missions. He also remains
a Hospice volunteer in Chippewa Falls.

Task at hand: A general practitioner, Dr. Chisholm sees uninsured patients at the Open Door Clinic in Chippewa Falls, Wis. He also helps determine claimants’ disability levels for the Minnesota Office of Economic Security. He was a U.S. Army medic for four years prior to medical school. He had a rural practice in Arcadia, Minn., for seven years before returning to the military. His 45-year active and reserve Army career included caring for casualties after the terrorist bombing of Marine barracks in Beruit while Chief of Surgery at Landstuhl Medical Center. He retired as a colonel in 1993. Dr. Chisholm also practiced trauma and vascular surgery for eight years in northern Minnesota.

Gut feeling: “I may have a congenital propensity for the less fortunate  I was born into a happy family, the fifth of six children, son of a dentist and musician mother. I was very early aware of the poverty during the Depression and the families needing food provided by others and free dental care provided by my dad. As the years passed, I realized the need to help those less protected, less gifted, less educated than myself. Helping others was what I/we were trained to do, and finally, it is our duty beyond searching for the cause of disease.”

Legwork: Medical training
- Internship, Georgetown University Hospital, 1960;
- General Practice residency, St. Joseph Hospital (now Genesys Regional Medical Center), Flint, Mich., 1963;
- General Surgery training, Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas.

Feet on the ground:
Home – Chippewa Falls, Wis.
Family – wife, Nancy; seven children; 14 grandchildren
Hobbies – books, environmentalism, church


Dr. Chisholm’s Sidelights

On his work with the Santee Sioux Reservation Tribal Clinic

“I found, perhaps, the place I was the most needed and useful, once again in social medicine on a salary. I returned to school, improved my computer skills, and took classes in Canadian and Indian history, rhetoric, political science and art. The tribe built a new clinic off the Indian boarding school grounds near the new casino and bought all the equipment and books I requested. The little, non-Indian hospital was made for a GP-surgeon and the staffs at both the Indian clinic and the hospital were outstanding. Those three and one-half years may have been my most useful contribution to society and the memories of those more recent years are still fixed solidly in my soul.”

On a military experience that reinforced his humanitarian priorities

“I took a MASH unit to the Alto Plano near Potosi, Bolivia in 1990 for several months in support of an engineering effort to lengthen a runway in the thin air on a mountain top for purposes not disclosed to me. With a great group of nurses and medics we cared for hundreds of Bolivian compesinos, operated on at least one hundred patients for a variety of problems in all the surgical specialties at about 11,00 feet, treated altitude sickness and delivered babies.”

On the establishment of the Open Door Clinic

“Still in excellent health, reminded by the state medical society that I could not see patients, make home calls without medical malpractice coverage (by state law), I saw the need for a clinic to serve the uninsured and found that malpractice insurance would cover me and all volunteers with some exceptions. With the assistance of sympathetic friends, I made a list of the things necessary for a primary clinic, searched for a location, found it with the help of the Presbyterian pastor and applied for funding from the Rutledge Charities, a foundation set up in the early 20th Century by one of the local lumber barons. After the approval of the Presbyterian Board and a generous donation from a wealthy childhood classmate, I began the legal work with a second cousin who had the template for the Eau Claire Free Clinic. I was unaware then that Eau Claire had a free clinic – now for 10 years. He assigned one of his junior partners to our board, which included a businessman, members of the Presbyterian Church, nurses from the local clinics, another internist, retired nurses and social workers.

In six months, we were seeing patients, and in April after four years, we will have seen 1,500 patients, comprising 5,200 visits and filled 8,400 prescriptions. The latter figure translates to $500,000. We have no problems finding volunteers for various positions—except doctors. We have a reliable cadre of about five providers, docs, PAs or NCs . We are open from 3:30 – 8 p.m. every Tuesday for patients between the ages of 19-64. The patients come from Chippewa County for the most part and from the surrounding counties as well.”



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