Like most doctors, Michael Weaver is accustomed to posing questions, not answering them, which makes talking about his retirement after nearly 34 years at Kaiser Permanente a squirmy affair.
"My dad was a physician and nothing else ever appealed to me, so that was the plan," he says, summing up a lengthy career that culminated in his being named Chief of Medicine at Kaiser's Permanente Martinez Medical Offices in 2001.
Weaver's decision to head into internal medicine, to join a now-rare breed of family physician instead of becoming a subspecialist, happened while "hiding" as a pre-med student at UCLA.
Weaver admitted that because teaching assistants often suspected pre-med students of cheating to beat the intense competition, he held off on declaring a major, saying, "But I liked physiology and pharmacology. I liked how things worked more than how they fit together."
Puzzling out a diagnosis from symptoms was engaging: watching surgeries was not, Weaver decided. From that moment on, he was traveling toward near extinction.
"I'm basically a dinosaur," he laughs, before allowing the conviction behind his chosen profession to show. "Very few doctors go into primary care medicine. It's not paid as well and it's denigrated by the university doctors at med schools."
Weaver says that reality is gradually changing, as training institutions recognize the growing need created by an aging baby boomer generation. He mentions new
"Medicare is responsible," he says. "You're paid far less for making a diagnosis and treating it than for sticking a tube in something. That's a big reason med students choose a subspecialty instead of primary care."
At Kaiser, Weaver is most proud of the staff he has hired and the family medical program he initiated.
"We went from being a department of medicine to being a family department. I chose people with an interest in pediatrics and gynecology and gave them security they wouldn't have in a solo practice," he says.
But it wasn't easy, and Weaver had his share of managerial headaches.
"When the chief has to chase people down to do charts, it's get them done ... or else!" he says, gruffly. "Tying to get people to do it the right way was aggravating to me."
Electronic medical charts provided some relief.
"It's instantaneous access to charts and you can actually read the notes, whereas before, you might only be able to read every other word," he jokes.
Hospital closures cause him to worry about the future, especially with Alzheimer's, diabetes, and heart disease putting more patients into long-term care.
"Where are you going to put all the old people?" he asks.
And before he becomes one of them, Weaver is flinging aside plotting, planning, predicting and prescribing for a full-body launch into retirement.
"Kaiser was a fishbowl, but unless you were doing something foolish, there was freedom -- and a solid pension plan," he says, explaining both why he stayed for so long and how he is able to depart.
His hobbies, which include playing guitar and golf, will occupy part of his leisure time.
"I can't say I'm good at either of them," he confides. "My wife bought me a guitar because she didn't like listening to my saxophone!"
If there's direction for his passions, it's reserved for sailing and family. A nearly 33-foot sailing sloop he docks in Benicia -- is named "Kelika," using the first letters of his children's names.
His wife, Susan, is a somewhat reluctant sailor.
"One time, we were out and I saw this flotilla of enormous yachts, not 50 feet away, coming right at me. Most amazing sight of a lifetime. I called for her to come up, fast. She came, carrying her book, said, "That's nice," then went below to read again," he says, in amazement.
Weaver is looking forward to "more days when I can do what I want" and has volunteered for next year's America's Cup races. Come September 2013, he's hoping to be on a 40 foot sailboat watching the 72-footers zip around the bay, and be available for house(boat) calls.