D. Ray Smith
Benita Albert continues her series on the Buchanan family of Oak Ridge School alumni.
Joel Buchanan is a 1973 graduate of Oak Ridge High School (ORHS) with an outstanding career in medicine. He is now embarking on a technology plan that will provide automated, problem-oriented summaries of medical records for clinicians. The plan encourages the use of concept maps generated from electronic health records (EHRs) with filters to filter patient data related to the current medical condition. His innovation is a game changer for the many huge databases that exist for individual patients and clinicians whose job is to diagnose and treat.
Joel is now Professor of Medicine (Emeritus) at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. From 1993-2019, he served as Medical Director of Information Systems at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics. There is no doubt that this position and his experience in medical practice shaped what is now his ongoing quest to provide enhanced technical support to the medical community. Although the technology of his early medical career was limited, Joel kept pace with the rapidly expanding world of technology. In this first part of his story, there is evidence that some influences that Joel experienced as a young man in Oak Ridge foreshadowed his eventual career.
You might recognize Buchanan’s name from an earlier story published this year on Steve Buchanan, ORHS Class of ’75. They are two brothers, both residents of Oak Ridgers, and sons to Joel and Jane Buchanan. When I began researching these men, I called their mother, Jane, who was thrilled to talk about her two sons. Joel Sr. and Jane were 60-year-old residents of Oak Ridge (1951-2012). They were scholars, volunteers active in community activities, and famous photographers. You can read more of their story via an online link to the first part of Steve’s article: https://www.oakridger.com/story/opinion/columns/guest/2022/03/18/stephen-buchanan-and-memories oak-ridge- school / 7038123001 /. oak-ridge-school/7038123001/.
Joel shared many special memories from his childhood in Oak Ridge. Speaking about his years at Woodland Elementary, Joel praised the opportunity to take split classes as he reaped the benefits of exposure to higher-level work. He recalled school gatherings where all the students watched American space footage on a small black and white television, the school’s technology at the time.
Seventh grade, his first year at Jefferson Junior High School (JJHS), was in the original ORHS building, which sat atop Blankenship Field. The new Jefferson Junior High School opened in the first of the eighth grade to Joel.
Joel said, “It was exciting to be among the first group of students in a new building with updated features.”
The first memory of ORHS centered around the band. Joel came home from his first day at band camp to announce to his parents that he could travel to Europe with the band the following summer of 1971. Jane also remembered this moment: “Doc Combs (ORHS coach) believed in starting early, so band practices were scheduled Before school actually started.You can imagine this mom’s shock after he sent her first baby on his first practice with ORHS and his first high school experience, when the first thing he said after coming home was, ‘Mom can I go to Europe with The band next summer ”.? ‘Europe? A 10th grader? What are we talking about? Well he’s gone, and it’s been a great experience. He paid for part of his way by working at Weigel’s Jug O’Milk.'”
Director Combs made travel arrangements for the ORHS students with a high school band from Bowling Green, Kentucky. The band gave concerts in the town squares of many villages. Joel played the clarinet from the fifth grade through his sophomore year, after which the academic session schedule conflicted with that of the band. He later returned to “play for fun” when, as a freshman at Duke University, extracurricular student participation in school activities such as the band was encouraged.
For three years, Joel played with the marching band at Blue Devils home games, and the band also performed in several outdoor matches.
Joel’s mother also wrote, using her “pet” name for her son Joel: “Joe was interested in gadgets from an early age. He became a ham radio operator when he was fairly young. He always seemed to build one or the other.”
When I told this story to Joel, he laughed and explained that his interest began with a Scout leader who was a worker himself and gave instructions in Morse, the first step in getting a communications license.
He said, “I used my savings from my paper way to buy a receiver, and built the transmitter myself with the help of local margin operators when needed. I taught myself mostly by books from the library on electronics. … I would go to the rooftop of our house to install the antennas, and hook up the wires.” Among the trees. Later, I set up an antenna at a summer camp in North Carolina so that our fellow campers could go online to talk to their parents.”
Joel’s training came in handy when he got involved in an extracurricular activity at Duke University in his freshman year. In the fall of 1973, Duke was looking to renovate the student radio station, and Joel signed what would become a four-year commitment to perform jobs as chief engineer, program director, general manager, and even disc jockey.
I asked Joel if he had continued his radio business. Noting that he no longer had a licence, he was excited by the dramatic changes in communications, especially encryption capabilities and computer links, that greatly improved science. As an aside, he mentioned the fact that some Russian military communications on the battlefield in Ukraine were easily intercepted by ham operators around the world due to the Russians using rudimentary radio communications not unlike the kind he used as a teenager.
Another meaningful community activity was Joel’s participation in Scouting where he received the rank of Eagle Scout. He remained active in the forces as a student teacher and camp counselor at Camp Buck Tom throughout high school. His Eagle Scout project created a portrait panel of church members at the United Church, Chapel on the Hill, his family’s church. He took Polaroid pictures and posted them for the members’ convenience to associate names with faces, as well as children with their parents. His project was a precursor to a later popular practice of published church members’ guides.
Joel recounted fond memories of his scouting activities: camping on Thief Neck Island in Watts Bar Lake, a location only accessible by boat; kayaking and camping in Maine; A hiking project at Grand Teton.
He said, “Our troops were placed in our own summer camps. Our leaders were very creative and adventurous.”
Jane remembered that Joel taught first aid to a younger scout, which she described as an “introduction to healthcare and medicine.” Additionally, Zafer Malazgirt lived in Buchanan’s house as an American Field Service (AFS) exchange student from Turkey during his first year with Joel at ORHS. Zafer was passionate about the future of medicine, and Jane believes this further fueled Joel’s interest in medical science.
Joel said he enjoyed having “another brother” in their home: “Dhafer brought new opportunities to meet more of my classmates through the many public events he participated in.”
The fledgling ORHS football team made use of Dhafer’s athletic skills in a sport he had been playing since childhood. As Joel described it, “Football was looming at ORHS, and I’m sure the coach was thrilled with Zafer’s experience.”
The Buchanan family remained close to Zafer throughout the following years. Joel’s visit in 2006 to Zafer’s home in Samsun on the Black Sea in Turkey included a lecture for medical students and faculty at the local university. Zafer is a prominent surgeon in Turkey, focusing on colon and rectal problems.
Joel praised the Advanced Biology (AP) course with ORHS instructor Joe Henderson as a course that helped influence his choice of biomedical engineering major at Duke.
He said, “Because my parents were scientists, I thought my destiny was to major in science.”
He also noted that his numerous AP credits on several courses at ORHS were transferable to Duke’s advanced standings, which allowed him to diversify his academic program with coursework beyond the requirements of the engineering curriculum.
Joel is now an advocate of an intelligent approach to retrieving data within electronic health records with his current plan to use “concept maps” to filter relevant health information. His career from emergency room physician to internal medicine practice to university teaching, research and consulting lends credence to his understanding of the growing challenges physicians face. Although his title is now Professor Emeritus of Medicine, his problem-solving mind is still very much working, and his quest for technological efficacy in medical practice continues.
Thanks, Benita, for another excellent series on Oak Ridge alumni. Next, we’ll see Joel working on developing medical technology and what he sees as the future in this field.