By Sarah Bello, Marketing & Communications Coordinator
When he entered an exam room, Dr. Robert Holland, CMH OB/GYN, sat wherever he could make eye contact, even if it meant declining the traditional doctor’s seat. As one of his patients, Jamee Meier, nurse and former director of the CMH Medical Group, says she always appreciated that he would choose patient comfort over his convenience.
“He would come into the room and be present,” she says. “You would think he was there to see you and there wasn’t anyone else waiting in the next room. He never mentioned that he didn’t have time. He always sat and was never in a hurry or rushed.”
After spending 18 years and most of his medical career at CMH, Dr. Holland will retire at the end of December. He has delivered countless babies in his three-plus decades of practice, even some in parking lots or cars, Meier says. He’s an exceptional surgeon and supportive of his colleagues, says Patti Boullie, certified nurse midwife.
It didn’t matter whether he was the on-call doctor or not — if there was ever any trouble in the delivery room, there was one person to bring in.
“People would say, ‘Call Bob Holland,'” Meier says.
Humble, calm and collected, Dr. Holland would be there, and with his experience, he was the person with the knowledge to help.
Many of his patients probably don’t know he has a degree in electrical engineering and a master’s in microbiology, in addition to a Ph.D. in biophysics and chemistry. He spent four years in the Air Force as a pilot, built his own plane and is currently building a boat.
But when he’s with his patients, he’s there for them. His long list of accomplishments? He’s more comfortable talking about the medical missions trips he’s done in different countries. Even then, he says, on one of his trips, the most important person was another volunteer — not him or the other doctors.
Fellow caregivers say it’s hard to believe he is retiring.
“You hope you have a life of service like him, that people write good things. That’s true of him,” Meier says. “I went to him because he had the utmost respect for women. He said once, ‘I am in the best position to listen to a woman, because I know nothing about what they go through.’ That spoke to me. He just had this ability to listen.”
A start to practice
As a young man, Dr. Holland didn’t set out to become a doctor, let alone an obstetrician-gynecologist. In fact, he says, he didn’t think he was smart enough. While he was in the Air Force, he flew flight surgeons around and his interest piqued.
After getting his master’s and Ph.D., he was finally accepted to medical school.
“I did it because I thought it was important to do things that helped people,” he says. “I liked the combination of happy stuff, serious stuff and seeing people throughout their life.”
Dr. Holland chose a unique residency in South Dakota that allowed him to practice Native medicine and then rural medicine in Alaska, giving him experience for the medical missions trips that came several years later. After school, he practiced at the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, a community health center in Washington, for nine years.
As the solo practitioner, he was available 24/7, and eventually, he decided to go somewhere with a partner and more flexibility. He spent five years in Flagstaff, Arizona, before seeing an opening at CMH in Astoria, where he had vacationed as a child.
He had built a two-seater plane in Arizona, and when he interviewed at CMH, the airport happened to have one hangar space open. He rented it on the spot and moved here in 2002.
18 years at CMH
When Dr. Holland began working at the Women’s Center, Boullie was already on staff. She says he has been a lot of fun to work with and a really solid physician.
“It was always comforting to know I was on with him,” Boullie says. “When you needed something, you called him up, and he was there for you.”
Patients have always been cared for when he’s been around, she says, and the staff, too. Once, a ward clerk wanted to go to lactation school, and he volunteered to give his education money, probably $2,000, to send her. When it came to young physicians, nurses and other caregivers, he was helpful, collaborative and professional, Boullie says. Meier agrees.
“Never have I heard him speak poorly about anyone,” Meier recalls. “He acknowledged everybody, had a great sense of humor and opened his home to us every holiday, just because.”
During his time with the hospital and prior to it, Dr. Holland spent time on several medical missions trips to the Marshall Islands, West Africa, Afghanistan, Peru and Haiti. On his trip to Mali in West Africa, he was there to teach people how to do surgery at a primitive new hospital. He and his team arrived a couple of days after it opened, and within an hour of arriving, they performed its first c-section.
Dr. Holland says the most rewarding experience on a medical missions trip was working on a disaster team in Haiti that arrived just after the devastating 2010 earthquake. For several weeks, he helped with wound care at a former hospital facility up in the mountains.
CMH was great about letting him go on these trips, often donating supplies, he says.
“I really get excited about medical missions stuff because I think it’s something everybody in the medical field should do,” Dr. Holland says. “The most useful person on our team was a nurse’s husband who was a retired electrician. We constantly needed him to fix things. It was the people who had other skills, not the doctors, who were important.
“We learned more about ourselves than the people we helped. That’s something every doctor needs to experience.”
Meier began working with Dr. Holland in 2005. His medical missions trips changed him for the better and made him more valuable as a human being and clinician, she says. He has a good heart and a good work ethic and learned a lot on those trips, Boullie says.
Meier says he and Boullie have long been the bedrock for OB/GYN services in the community. When Meier was in her second pregnancy, she worked as the clinic manager. One night, she dreamt she was having twins, and she told Dr. Holland the next day.
“I remember him saying, ‘Well, I had a dream last night that my brother had two heads. I don’t put much stock into dreams, but let’s go do an ultrasound,’” Meier says. “After, he shook my hand and said, ‘Congratulations, you were right. You’re having twins.’ And then he said, ‘I gotta go call my brother.’ It was just funny and a good example of how he never dismissed anything that a woman or mother said.”
Dr. Holland is a good man, Meier says, and the guy you would want in your lifeboat during an emergency.
“What doesn’t make him amazing? He has an unwavering dedication,” Meier says, “to mothers, babies — just the whole family. Medicine isn’t just the new we learn, but the history we’ve come from. I can’t believe he’s actually going to retire.”
Media Contact: Nancee Long, 503-338-4504
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