Duke University, 1958, A.B., Chemistry
University of Oxford, 1961, M.A., Physiology
Johns Hopkins Medical School, 1964, M.D.
Clif Cleaveland was born and raised in a small town called LaGrange in Georgia near the Alabama border. He is the oldest child with a sister who is four years younger. When he was fourteen years old, his family moved to South Carolina. From a very young age, he wanted to become a doctor. He graduated from medical school in the mid-1960’s and served as a doctor in the U.S. Army. After a fellowship at Vanderbilt University, he focused his practice on internal medicine until his retirement in 2004. He is a former president of the American College of Physicians and his work on healthy policy issues has led him to testify before Congressional hearing committees. He is also the author of two books, Sacred Space: Stories from a Life in Medicine and Healers and Heroes: Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times. He currently teaches an undergraduate course at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and writes a column about health issues for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. A major influence on his writing and viewpoint about health care was from his experience of becoming very sick as a student at Oxford and receiving medical treatment under the British national health service. He currently lives in Tennessee with his wife of 50 years.
Q. What kind of work did your parents do?
My dad traveled for a life insurance company for which he subsequently became a district manager. My mom was a full-time homemaker.
Q. How would you describe your parents’ philosophy in raising children?
My dad was away most of the time traveling during the first nine years of my life. I would see him every other weekend. He was a hardworking man. He had not graduated from high school. He had to drop out of high school during the Great Depression to go to work and earn money. My mother was a college grad. The expectations were that I would always study and do well in school.
Q. What values do you think your parents tried to instill in you while you were growing up?
To work hard. To study hard. In living through the Depression in part of a country that was particularly hard hit, they realized the value of education. They had seen many of their peers in bread lines. They knew people who had lost their businesses who had to start over. There was always a big emphasis on doing homework, going beyond what was the minimum required and succeeding in school.