Janet Kiehle Allen, M.D., is living proof that it's never too late to pursue one's dreams-or to be generous. Allen began practicing medicine at age 48. She says that if she ever wanted to retire, she couldn't "live like a doctor." So she has lived modestly but comfortably, made prudent financial decisions, and focused on what was most important to her: educating her children, providing for retirement, traveling, and giving back to her school.
Allen has established a flexible deferred charitable gift annuity at UNM, a gift that provides income for her while ultimately benefiting the School of Medicine. A 1980 graduate of the school, she says she wanted to give to UNM "because not a lot of medical schools at that time would give chances to older medical students." The accountant who was giving her advice on estate planning and structuring charitable giving told her of special tax provisions available for funding charitable gift annuities in 2006 and 2007. "It was a win-win situation for me," she says.
Allen was interested in going to medical school at the age of 19, but her parents said that any help for graduate school would go to her brother "because he was the boy." After graduating from Vassar College in 1959, she became a member of the music faculty there. While living in West Lafayette, Ind., she commuted to the University of Illinois and in 1965 earned a master's degree in organ literature and performance. She and her husband moved to New Mexico in 1967.
Tragedy struck Allen's life in 1975. "That was my year from hell," she says. "I was divorced, remarried and widowed all in one year." Those events caused her to think about what she really wanted to pursue. After her second husband died, she says, "I was having a conversation with a friend and said, 'It's too bad I'm so old because I always wanted to go to medical school.' She said, 'You're not too old.'"
Allen visited Diane Klepper, M.D., who for 31 years was assistant and associate dean at the UNM School of Medicine and is now a professor emerita specializing in pulmonary medicine. Someone had told her that Klepper would try to dissuade her from trying to study medicine, "but in fact, she encouraged me to go back to school for a year to prove that I still had a brain."
After wavering between pediatrics and pathology, Allen chose the latter. "I decided it didn't make sense to stay up all night every third night during residency to take care of other children while neglecting my own," she says. "In medical school I was fascinated with what could be seen through a microscope, and the puzzle-solving aspect of pathology was really appealing."
Allen's children were ages 6 and 9 when she began medical school, and she raised them alone. "I was gone a lot, and we ate plenty of tuna fish," she recalls, "but they were very supportive. My daughter reported that several classmates had fathers who were doctors, but she was the only one whose mother was going to be a doctor."
Pleasure in Serving
The Medical School's emphasis on care for rural and underserved populations prepared Allen "extraordinarily well" for her position with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in Anchorage. The consortium is a unique health system that serves Alaska Natives throughout the state in village clinics, bush hospitals and at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, where Allen was a staff pathologist.
The ability to make a living while serving others is gratifying to Allen. "Medicine has provided me with an intellectually stimulating career and a lifelong learning experience," she says. "Having had the experience of job hunting in 1974, in possession of two degrees, and being asked: Do you type? Do you take shorthand-questions no man would have been asked-it feels good to have credentials that earn immediate respect. Medicine has given me greater confidence and an appreciation of the complexity and uncertainty of life."
Perhaps this appreciation of life's uncertainties helped influence Allen to give back to the School of Medicine. She made her gift an endowed professorship in Klepper's honor because of the support Klepper gave her as a student and because of her own desire to support teaching at UNM. "It was hard for me to go from a small liberal arts college to a large university," she says.
Allen is retired, but her energy and attitude belie her years. "I try to get out of the country twice a year. Travel keeps me from getting burned out at work. There's a whole lot of world out there."