May 28, 2019
Area(s) of Interest: Physician Leadership
Name:Melvin S. Donaldson, M.D.
“I planned on being a physician when I was nine. And I never changed from that.” Melvin S. Donaldson, M.D., started practicing medicine in 1952, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was President and gasoline was 29 cents per gallon, and has worked full-time since then. Sixty-five years later, Dr. Donaldson is the longest-serving active member from the Alameda Contra Costa Medical Association (ACCMA). His love of working with military veterans for the last five years is what keeps him going to his office five days a week.
He grew up in Burlingame, and began studying at Stanford University in 1940, where he was in the ROTC in a horse-drawn artillery unit and played the tuba in the Stanford Band. He graduated from the Stanford University School of Medicine in 1947 and served as a physician at the Mare Island Naval Hospital in Vallejo for two years. After he completed his residency in family practice at the University of Colorado in Denver in 1952, where he received a MS degree, he joined the primary care practice of Doctor Stanley R. Truman, who was ACCMA President in 1968. Dr. Donaldson has been in solo general practice since Doctor Truman retired in 1977 and has always practiced in Oakland.
He served on the Board of Directors of Health Ventures, Inc., a medical group at the Merritt Peralta Medical Center, and was also the last staff president at Peralta and chair of the Family Practice department at Merritt and Highland Hospitals. He was the last family physician with major surgical privileges at all East Bay hospitals, until he ceased performing surgery at the age of 65.
He can remember making house calls in East and West Oakland in the middle of the night, putting on coat and tie, to treat patients for heart attacks and deliver one of more than 1,000 babies over his career. Dr. Donaldson partnered with Arthur Stanten, M.D., to open an imaging center in Antioch. He decided last year to focus exclusively on screening military veterans for their benefits because of the great need for such examinations in Northern California.
His medical expertise extends beyond the human body. While he was a physician on staff at the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, he was also a research associate for the Steinhart Aquarium and the Department of Aquatic Biology at the California Academy of Sciences from 1970 to 1980. In his herpetology studies, Dr. Donaldson discovered that metronidazole, a relatively new drug used for the treatment of amoebic dysentery in humans, also worked to cure dysentery in snakes and other reptiles, although the exact mode of introduction and spread of the disease could not be discovered. The resulting paper, “Epizootic of Fatal Amebiasis Among Exhibited Snakes,” of which he is the lead author, was published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research in 1975. He also studied the cyanide collecting of reef fishes at the Academy.
Dr. Donaldson served as Chair of the ACCMA Adoptions (later named Family Life) Committee from 1963 to 1983, which discussed ethical issues, proposed guidelines, and made recommendations regarding the role of physicians in adoptions. He was also Chair of the Abortion Ad Hoc Committee from 1970 to 1972, and served on the Continuing Medical Education Committee from 1962 to 1972.
He and his wife Nance (they have been married for 52 years) are extensively engaged in the community. They were recognized as Philanthropists of the Year by the Alta Bates Summit Foundation in 2001, and funded a laboratory at the California Academy of Sciences. Their collection of contemporary Navajo rugs is on loan and will eventually be donated to the California Academy of Sciences. They also support Native American arts and crafts education to ensure that future generations will develop skills in moccasin making, silversmithing, and rug weaving. His hobbies include dye-transfer photographs; many of his pictures were displayed in the cardiology wing of Merritt Hospital and are currently hung in his office waiting room. Dr. Donaldson also collects Kachinas, carved figures representing ancestral spirits in Pueblo Indian mythology. He has a few of them on display in his private office. During the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, all the figures fell off the shelf onto the floor and none of them were damaged in any way. He credits the Kachina spirit with the miracle, as well as watching over him all these years.
Dr. Donaldson plans to retire in four years, when he is 100 years young. CMA and ACCMA thank and appreciate Dr. Donaldson for being an active member for 65 years!