As Dr. William Newsom closed the doors to Grass Valley Hematology-Oncology Friday afternoon, he officially retired from a career that spanned
35 years, touched the lives of thousands and created a lasting legacy in the community — a comprehensive cancer center in Grass Valley that focused on the treatment of the whole patient, not just the disease.
Friday was a stark contrast to his first day of work here 31 years ago. Newsom and his wife, Dr. Christine Newsom, an internist, moved to Nevada County from San Francisco to open a practice together. With their 6-month-old son, they arrived in the middle of a major rainstorm to a house without a working septic system. Both physicians showed up at work the next day.
“It was not an auspicious beginning,” Newsom said.
Newsom earned his medical degree and did his fellowship in medical oncology from the University of California, Davis. Before relocating to Nevada County in 1981, he worked at the University of California, San Francisco Cancer Center, part-time and had a private practice as well.
He shared a practice with his wife for over a decade before pursuing a cancer center for the community.
“He was very determined to do what was best for his patients,” said Lauren Swinney, a nursing director at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.
That included lobbying for the creation of a cancer center after watching the impact on cancer patients who had to drive long distances each day to receive oncology treatments, such as radiation.
Swinney teared up as she spoke about Newsom, with whom she has worked for 26 years.
“He is just wonderful,” she said.
As a physician, he advocated for the best interests of his patients, as well as the nurses.
“He never made us feel inferior or that we were not doing our jobs,” Swinney added.
Newsom helped her create a chemotherapy credentialing program for the nurses at SNMH, served as a liaison between other physicians and nurses and was always gracious when the staff would have to call him at home about a patient.
Swinney said she wouldn’t hesitate to be treated at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital for cancer because of what Newsom has created there.
“I can’t even say how much I’ll miss him,” Swinney said. “He’s always been there. He definitely was — and is — a mentor, a patient advocate, nurse advocate and staff advocate.”
Newsom’s business partner for the past 17 years, Dr. David Campbell, echoed her sentiments.
“Bill is just an amazing man,” Campbell said, adding that Newsom’s knowledge of medicine in general and oncology in particular is unsurpassed.
In the early 1990s, as the hospital was planning to expand its facility to include an outpatient center, Newsom said he saw his opportunity to lobby hospital administration and the board of directors to add a cancer center.
It was at least five years in the making, Newsom said.
For the community to have quality cancer care, there
needed to be a team approach — another medical oncologist, the addition of radiation oncology services, plus pathology, surgeons, radiologists and staff to support all the necessary elements to good care.
The hospital agreed, and in 1995, a 2,000-square-foot space with a designated radiation oncology treatment area was opened as part of the new Outpatient Center.
There are 8,000 patient visits a year at the cancer center. Between Newsom and Campbell, there are about 10 new patients a week.
“I think that being a catalyst to bring a cancer center to the Grass Valley area was my major accomplishment,” Newsom said.
Last year, the SNMH Comprehensive Community Cancer Center expanded once again and added a new linear accelerator that offers the latest advances in radiation oncology treatment. The founding philosophy behind the Cancer Center was to treat the whole patient. As such, the center offers patients, caregivers and families alike dozens of support groups, art and music therapy, a resource library, massages, social workers, meal delivery and much more.
When Campbell joined the practice, Newsom told him he always wanted Wednesdays off.
But every Wednesday, he’d show up at work and spend several hours calling patients and reviewing charts and new reports, Campbell said.
“He is and always has been a dedicated physician whose goal was always the welfare of his patients,” Campbell said.
Both Campbell and Swinney also highlighted Newsom’s devotion to his wife and three children.
Newsom plans to spend a lot more time with his wife, who is also retired. Cleaning his garage and catching up on his National Geographics are also high on the list of things to do in retirement, he said.
Campbell will become the medical director and take over Newsom’s existing patients. He is already working with the hospital to recruit a new partner to the practice.
“My goal is to get someone in that’s a good fit,” Campbell said. “I know I can’t replace Bill, but I want someone smart, competent and (even) half as compassionate as Bill. I’m going to take time to get the right person for this job.”
Newsom’s respect for his partner is clearly reciprocated.
“I see a bright future under Dave’s leadership,” he said.
The humble, soft-spoken physician said he is grateful to his patients for being able to care for them and grateful to his colleagues.
“I feel very lucky to have the best job in the world,” Newsom said.
Features Editor Brett Bentley can be contacted at email@example.com.
“I feel very lucky to have the best job in the world.”
— Dr. William Newsom