A cornerstone of Steamboat health care retires this month

Mark and Marilyn McCaulley recreate near Rabbit Ears Pass earlier this year. After 40 years serving in local health care, Mark McCaulley is retiring in late December to move on to research adventures.
Marilyn McCaulley/Courtesy photo

After 40 years of going above and beyond for Routt County patients and colleagues, physician Mark McCaulley is retiring in late December to move on to other adventures.

A critical care and internal medicine doctor with a subspecialty interest in gastrointestinal endoscopy and colonoscopy, McCaulley will retire from Yampa Valley Medical Associates on Dec. 27 after a 43-year medical career. Though the decades, McCaulley, 70, performed approximately 35,000 colonoscopies or upper endoscopies. Considering a colon is about 5-feet long, McCaulley translates that to scoping more than 33 miles of patient intestines, performing up to eight procedures per day in recent years.

“He has seen half of the buns in town,” said fellow YVMA physician Michelle Jimerson, during a jovial conversation with McCaulley last week. “On a serious note, Mark always goes above and beyond for his patients and colleagues. You can always count on him to help and provide outstanding and thoughtful care to patients.”

The hard-working, inquisitive and affable doctor plans to continue writing medical articles and researching the connections between gut health, inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease, which is work he started in 2015 when his mother was suffering from the disease.

“Mark has been a backbone of primary care in Steamboat Springs for decades, both in the office and working in the hospital,” said Dr. Brian Harrington. “When I joined Yampa Valley Medical Associates 17 years ago, I viewed him as a mentor. He has guided many physicians as a colleague and teacher through the years. This year, we have had countless patients still asking for Mark even as he neared his retirement.”

Following his time in residency at Denver Presbyterian Hospital and in critical care at St. Anthony Hospital, McCaulley and his wife, Marilyn, moved to Steamboat on his 30th birthday in fall 1982 when he purchased the practice of internist Lambert Orton. In the small town, he performed a wide variety of procedures that internists are trained to do but often do not get the opportunity to perform in larger hospital settings.

Just three months into his new job, on a snowy Christmas Eve when planes were grounded, he treated a patient seriously ill with septic shock from meningitis. McCaulley employed critical care techniques to stabilize the patient until flights to the Front Range were possible.

Marilyn and Mark McCaulley and their dogs, shown in 1982, have enjoyed hiking and backcountry skiing in Routt County for decades.
Marilyn McCaulley/Courtesy photo

“That’s typical Mark, really devoted to his patients, keeping their interests in mind at all time,” said retired doctor Lambert Orton. “Mark always was and remains the internist’s internist. He had the respect of all his peers. He was always the doctor’s doctor, very astute, very well-read.”

Routt County resident Harriet Freiberger tells a story from 1983 when McCaulley resuscitated her husband, Fry, at the former Routt Memorial Hospital. McCaulley then accompanied Fry on a single-engine plane, as he was transferred to a helicopter, and rode to the rooftop of Denver’s Porter Adventist Hospital, Freiberger said.

Although McCaulley remains modest, the physician undoubtably helped to save many lives in Northwest Colorado through the decades. About half of patients who receive a colonoscopy have polyps removed, and all colon cancers start out as polyps, he said. Advanced polyps that are larger than 1 to 2 centimeters can turn malignant within a year.

Removing cancers is one of the most gratifying parts of his career, along with accolades received from medical students he helped to train. For the past 21 years, McCaulley served as an assistant clinical professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, where he received three awards for teaching excellence and outstanding contribution by a rural internist.

One past student is Dr. Laura Sehnert, chief medical officer at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, who said she was fortunate to work with McCaulley in her early career.

“Dr. McCaulley has been a cornerstone of our medical staff for 40 years, and every single day, he’s shown up to work with a smile on his face,” Sehnert said. “He brought a kind, thoughtful and collaborative approach to patient care.”

Dr. Mark McCaulley, standing tall in the back at 6-foot 6-inches, poses with colleagues at the Steamboat Health Center in 1983.
Marilyn McCaulley/Courtesy photo

In 2012, McCaulley won a Doc Willett Health Care Heritage Award, given to professionals who advance health care in the Yampa Valley through their dedication, innovation or extreme passion.

McCaulley just wants to be remembered by patients as being kind and “doing his best to understand their disease and to help them feel better.” He will continue to perform colonoscopies two days a month in Granby for a while.

Karen Espinosa, a registered nurse for 32 years, called McCaulley “caring, very smart, very affable and very appreciative of his support medical staff.”

Ginny Glass, YVMA office manager who has worked with McCaulley for 40 years, said she is sad to see the retirement of a “solid, wonderful doctor and great friend.”

“He was dedicated to being a physician, always helpful, incredibly smart. He did everything to find out an answer,” Glass said. “He’s a very, very good human being, and Steamboat is and was lucky to have him.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.