LEWISBURG — For the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine’s (WVSOM) newest regional assistant dean, years spent improving the lives of patients around the world taught her lessons that are proving valuable in the Mountain State.
Katherine Calloway, D.O., MPH, works in the South Central Region of WVSOM’s Statewide Campus, which consists of seven regions across the state where third- and fourth-year medical students complete their clinical rotations. The South Central Region encompasses all of West Virginia’s Kanawha, Boone, Logan and Mingo counties and parts of Fayette, Lincoln, Putnam and Wyoming counties.
Before earning a D.O. degree from WVSOM in 2008, Calloway graduated from Wake Forest University with a double major in sports medicine and medical anthropology, and completed a Master of Public Health degree from Boston University. Outside the classroom, she received an eye-opening and at times harrowing education during a series of international experiences that carried her from the Killing Fields of Cambodia to the developing African nations of Mozambique and Rwanda.
Today, Calloway provides inpatient care with HospiceCare, West Virginia’s largest nonprofit hospice service, in addition to her work with WVSOM. It’s been a long journey for a physician who was first inspired to pursue medicine by her maternal grandfather — the only doctor for the Carbon Fuel Company coal camp, located in Kanawha County’s Cabin Creek area.
“He was one of those community physicians who did it all,” she said. “He rescued miners, performed surgeries, delivered babies, treated the common cold. People would just come to the house and knock on the door because that’s what he was there for. I never saw my grandfather not taking care of people. He was exemplary for me as to what a doctor looks like.”
Calloway’s interest in working overseas began when she was young, and she used the “jack-of-all-trades” example of her grandfather as a model for helping communities in nonmedical and medical arenas. At camps along the Thailand/Cambodia border, she was part of a group that taught English to refugees being relocated to the U.S. to escape the Khmer Rouge. She later accompanied a medical anthropology professor to Roatán, in the Caribbean, investigating ways to create a single health care system to serve the segregated populations who inhabited the then-rural island.
Those experiences set the stage for the international efforts Calloway took part in after receiving her master’s degree, such as assisting with post-conflict health care development in war-torn Kosovo, where she first managed a reproductive health program with the International Rescue Committee and later implemented health policy for 17 primary care health clinics with the United Nations. She worked with the Clinton Foundation to reduce disparities in AIDS prevention and treatment in Mozambique, and with Emory University’s HIV clinic in Rwanda. Experiences aiding large populations is uniquely rewarding, Calloway said.
“You’re saving people’s lives and improving their quality of life,” she said. “You’re part of something bigger than yourself.”
Calloway returned to West Virginia after her sister passed away unexpectedly in 2010, and the following year she began doing inpatient and outpatient work — including an osteopathic manipulative medicine clinic — as a family practice physician with Charleston Internal Medicine.
After eight years, she found that she missed serving in public health and shifted her practice to Cabin Creek Health Systems, where she developed and supported a nonpharmacologic pain management program as part of their medication-assisted treatment program for people in substance use recovery. Then, in 2022, Calloway took a full-time leadership position with HospiceCare, an organization she’d previously worked with on a part-time basis.
“My sister was in hospice for two weeks before she passed. After that, I always did hospice on the side because it was something I loved and felt was of value to our patients and our community,” she said.
Since joining WVSOM, Calloway said she has enjoyed collaborating with other regional assistant deans and, especially, getting to know students rotating in the South Central Statewide Campus Region.
“It’s similar to patient care in that you have to meet each student exactly where they are — not where you think they should be, and not where someone at a higher administrative level thinks they should be. You’re a support piece for them academically, socially, professionally and emotionally. You’re their family.”
It’s not surprising that one of Calloway’s goals is to help expand WVSOM’s potential for international rotations. Though the school has allowed students to rotate in overseas locations in the past, she said she hopes to work with administrators to revitalize the school’s international offerings.
The rewards, she said, are priceless.
“It allows students to have a global perspective on promoting health,” she said. “The work I did internationally gave me an incredible foundation for what we’re doing now in rural Appalachia. With international work, there’s a finite amount of money and time to do a specific job. You have to do it with the resources that are available, so it teaches you be resourceful. Bringing home the efficiencies you learn in those settings is invaluable.”