Dr. Barbara Wilhelm ’73 has written eight novels. Three are medieval romance/adventures, three are medical mysteries, one is a historical romance, and one tells the story of the Chatham Tiffany window that now hangs in Buhl Hall through the lens of fake alumni. Here’s the blurb:
Dr. Tristan Tichnor is a research chemist who can manipulate molecules at will, but finds life hard to arrange. With her fifteenth college reunion rapidly approaching, she is frantic to hide her terrible secret: The dashing fiancé she has been writing about in the Alumnae News exists only in her dreams.
Computer systems analyst Michael James is a transfer into Tristan’s karate school who is as unbelievably attractive as her fantasy man. Hiring him to appear at the reunion, she soon realizes that his past is a real-life mystery.
Her link to her ancestor—who graduated a century earlier—leads her to investigate the origins of the Alumnae Memorial Window, donated by her ancestor’s peers. The window is to be rededicated after years in storage, but why does Michael also feel a connection to it?
You might think that a novel written inspired by her alma mater would come up fairly early in an interview for Chatham’s 150th anniversary, but you’d be wrong. Barbara doesn’t seem to privilege any particular aspect of her life and chats with equal enthusiasm about how impressed she was when she visited Chatham from her hometown of Lancaster, PA (“Every week I would get a postcard, or a copy of the newspaper, or something. They seemed very interested in me.”) and the breadth of patients she sees in her medical practice in Farmington, PA (“We refer them to the hospital if they’re actively hallucinating. Anything else, we try to manage ourselves.”)
Barbara majored in chemistry, sang in the choir, and was the editor of the newspaper. “I really enjoyed my time in college. I would go back. I would not go back to a lot of things, but I would go back to that.”
After Chatham, Barbara entered a PhD program in medicinal chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh. “I thought I wanted to be a mad scientist,” she laughs. Discouraged by the political nature of the PhD program, and inspired by a medical school class she sat in on, she switched to University of Pittsburgh Medical School in 1975, where she was not alone: There were four Chatham grads a couple of years ahead of her. “I would say my classes were about 30-35% women,” she says. “I think there was a big increase in enrollment in the late 60’s and early 70’s.”
“I knew I wanted to go into family practice, because I like variety,” Barbara says. She did her residency at McKeesport Hospital. “I drew a circle around my house, figured out where I could commute to, and applied there.” After her residency, she did a lot of different things, including working in an ER, but, she says, “I always knew I would go into practice with my husband.”
Barbara’s husband, Frank Perrone, who passed ten years ago, owed time to public health service, so in 1984, Barbara and Frank moved to Farmington, PA, where they opened Farmington Medical Center in what is considered a rural, medically underserved area. “Uniontown is about 12 miles in one direction; Somerset 40 miles in the other, but there’s no public transportation” says Barbara, “When we first started, people thought that going to Uniontown was like going to the moon.”
“When we were looking for a house, I had joked that we can’t go anywhere where cable has not gone. That’s too far out for me! I remember when we first moved here, I went to the local grocery store—and was asked what a bagel was. They just looked at me like I’m from Mars. But things have changed amazingly, and it’s a beautiful area.”
Between the two of them, Barbara and Frank saw as many as 150 patients per week. Now Barbara runs the practice, seeing patients along with a nurse practitioner. “We see a lot of urgent care issues and a lot of mental health issues; mostly depression and anxiety. There’s a major shortage of psychiatrists everywhere, especially in rural areas, so we have to do a lot of mental health interventions. We see pediatrics, and I go to the nursing home, which is now used for therapy. Not everyone there is very old; sometimes it’s someone with chronic disease.”
“I’m a preceptor, and I get students from the Chatham Physician Assistant program. That’s been delightful – they like coming out because I let them do things. And the patients love seeing the students; they figure they’re getting twice the attention.”
Today, in addition to her writing and medical careers, Barbara enjoys keeping up with her Chatham classmates. “We were talking at our last reunion about maybe going to an AC/DC concert for our 50th,” she says. “Our class has always been a little different, and that’s good.”
Read more about Barbara and her books at www.Bewilhelm.com.