Callans brings enthusiasm and positivity to an oft-overwhelming field

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Callans STREAMOver the years, Will Callans has worked part-time as a cook, a bartender and a roof-cleaner. He’s poured concrete and cleaned roofs. But seven years ago, he got his first professional job at UAB, fresh out of the master of public health program, as a research assistant in the Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative Care.

Since then, Callans has moved into the position of program manager in the division and realized that, although he’s worked a lot of odd jobs, UAB provides a unique atmosphere for progress and growth.

“UAB was my first real professional job,” he said. “The unique thing about working here is that it’s so big that you have to be able to communicate on so many different levels. I’ve got to put on my research hat to talk to the research team or my clinical hat to talk to physicians. You’ve got to appreciate where everyone else is coming from, and I don’t think you get to do that in other places.”

In his role, he manages research studies and supports staff and faculty in the division. His co-workers said this is especially important in palliative care because caring for patients at the end of their lives can be emotionally overwhelming.

“Will has an exceptional combination of terrific people skills and technical competence that make him perfect for his job,” said Elizabeth Kvale, M.D., associate professor in the division. “He is often at the center of groups planning celebrations or self-care — including groups that don’t work directly with him — because he is just fun to be around.”

While working at UAB, Callans has also earned a second master’s degree in health administration — a feat that impressed his co-workers even more than his dedication to deadlines and good work ethic.“

"Will is incredibly dependable and keeps the rest of us on target as well,” said Cynthia Brown, M.D., an associate professor in the department. “What is especially impressive is he has been able to complete all his tasks on time and remain a valuable team member while taking classes to complete his second master’s degree.”

Callans splits his time between the Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative Care and Birmingham’s VA Medical Center, where he spends about 40 percent of his time managing federally sponsored projects with national implications.

Managing complicated research studies is time-consuming, but Callans’ peers say he’s never one to watch the clock, citing his often-early arrivals and late nights working. According to Patricia Goode, M.D., Gwen McHortor Professor of Geriatric Medicine, Callans never hesitates to attend meetings or work events that take place in the evening or visit study participants or new enrollees.

“He has driven to patients’ homes in the evening and — in one case — on the weekend to complete an enrollment,” she said.

Will is incredibly dependable and keeps the rest of us on target as well.” 

Not only is he willing to work extra hours, Goode said, but he often goes the extra mile to be as helpful to patients and their families as he can. One example she cited occurred during a study to determine if cholesterol medications could be discontinued safely in patients with limited life expectancy.

“Will would go to clinic to meet with patients, but he often went to the homes of these seriously ill patients — his idea — to tell them and their family members about the study and answer all of their questions,” Goode said. “Many of these patients died during the study, as we expected, and Will always sent the family members a handwritten sympathy note — also his idea. This was some tough work, and Will handled it with maturity and grace.”

Callans said that, about a year ago, his grandfather died while under palliative care, and it allowed him to experience both sides of the equation — both working in the field and also experiencing it as a family member of a patient, which helps him be even more understanding of how difficult it can be to cope.

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“I’ve experienced both ends, so maybe I have the ability to step back from it,” he said.

He added that he’s also a “doer,” meaning that once he’s given a task, he doesn’t often ask for help — he wants his co-workers to be able to rely on his word that he will get the project done.

“I want the folks I work for to know that if I take on a task, it’s going to get done, and they don’t have to worry,” he said.