When Jean Chin’s father moved his family of six to Athens for a job at UGA, he never could’ve predicted the role the university would play in not only his but also his children’s lives as well.
Edward Chin Sr. founded what is now the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant at the university, and all of his children can call UGA their alma mater. But Jean Chin, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1978, has perhaps the strongest ties to the university. She’s spent the last 30 years working at UGA, starting as a staff physician and ultimately working her way up to medical director of the health center and finally its executive director, a position from which she will retire at the end of the month.
But when she first returned to the university in 1988, she wasn’t expecting to stay long.
“When I came here, I thought I would only be here for three years while my husband, Randal Walker, earned his doctorate and then go back into private practice,” Chin said. “It’s not like I aspired to be the executive director of the University Health Center when I first came here.”
Chin had graduated with her medical degree from Tufts University in Massachusetts and spent her internship and residency at Westchester County Medical Center in New York. Up until joining the health center’s staff, she had been in private practice. Chin assumed she’d spend a few years working as a staff physician at UGA and move back to New York or some other similarly large city to practice her specialty, internal medicine.
“When you go through medical school, an internship and residency, you don’t do that to sit behind a desk and push papers around,” she said. “You go into the profession because you want to serve patients.”
At the time of her arrival, the health center was located in what is now Gilbert Hall. The Gilbert Infirmary was the health center’s second home after moving from its previous location on Lumpkin Street.
“When I started there, we had one room, which was our office and our exam room,” Chin said.
The move to the now-111,000-square-foot building on East Campus is one of Chin’s most memorable moments from her time at UGA.
“When we shut down old Gilbert, we basically relocated the health center over the weekend,” she said. “At the end of the day Friday, we packed up medical records and paper charts, moved everything into the new building and reopened on Monday.”
A handful of years after the opening of the new building, Chin was named medical director of the health center, a position she held until assuming the role of executive director in 2005.
“As the medical director, you’re the operations guy,” she said. “You run the building, the clinics, the schedule, and you make sure patients are being seen. I thought I knew everything about this building, but this position was completely different.”
In fact, Chin didn’t even apply for the executive director position when the university began looking for someone. When the first round of searching turned up empty, she thought that it was “maybe a sign” that she should apply, like people had been urging her to do. As executive director, Chin oversaw additions of roughly 30,000 square feet to the health center’s building, including the one that brought the vision clinic to the building, increased the size of the women’s clinic and incorporated electronic health records. She also continued to have the health center accredited by Joint Commission, making the university one of only
17 college health care centers nationwide that has Joint Commission accreditation.
Despite increased administrative duties, Chin was determined to continue seeing patients, though her time in the exam room isn’t what it used to be. She also continued to serve as an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the Medical College of Georgia and as a board member for St. Mary’s HealthCare System.
Spending 30 years at one institution isn’t common these days, and Chin’s work life wasn’t strictly separated from her home life.
“The health center has been not only my workplace but my social life too,” she said. “I’ll miss the camaraderie.”