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New Scripps board chair is a former FBI special agent

Years before she was helping to make decisions for Scripps Health as chair of the board, Jan Caldwell responded to high-profile, tragic assignments with the FBI.

Jan Caldwell
Jan Caldwell Courtesy

The Carmel Valley woman — who started with the FBI in 1974 as a clerk before retiring in 2006 as a special agent — took part in a variety of major investigations as part of the critical incident deployment team, including the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon; the downing of Trans World Airlines flight 800 off the coast of New York; the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City; and the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.

She recalled first hearing about the attack on the Pentagon, following the striking of the World Trade Center, and deploying her team.

"As soon as the flights were able to take off, our team from the West Coast and some from the East Coast met up at the Pentagon and worked as we could," she said. "My main job at the bureau for that time period was working with the media. Of course, I was in the command post and saw the leads that were coming in and the volume in which the calls and information flow was going. The thing that struck me the most was actually seeing the Pentagon and seeing the damage and all the other ancillary senses you have — the smell of it, the multi-dimensional aspect of it. It was a profound moment in my career."

Of course, a job like that had an effect on one's emotions and mental well-being. Caldwell said one of the first lessons taught by the FBI is for the agents to take care of themselves.

Caldwell, who has a master's degree in organizational management and a bachelor's degree in clinical abnormal psychology, considered the training at the bureau as "exceptional."

"The people who ran the unit at the time at headquarters always made sure that when we went to a scene that we left intact and that we didn't go home traumatized by what we saw or smelled or anything else," she said.

She remembered one instance vividly when the scene particularly shook her. While responding to the downing of Trans World Airlines flight 800, her team worked to identify belongings that divers would pull out from the sunken aircraft, which another team worked to reassemble.

One of those items was a child's teddy bear.

"It just got to me," Caldwell recalled. "It was one of those moments where you had to take yourself off the line and talk to somebody then come back and do your job. I think that's important, and it's important in healthcare, too, that you're not a robot. You should feel, to a degree, so you can show compassion and empathy but be professional enough to go back and complete the job, too."

Caldwell, who has worked in media and community relations with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department since 2006, was asked to join the Scripps board in 2011.

She believes the skills she learned in her 45 years in law enforcement have helped her analyze objectively, evaluate situations and listen to others.

However, despite those traits, she recalled some hesitation when being asked to join the Scripps board.

"With a nod to the 'Wizard of Oz,' I wasn't sure if I really wanted to see the man behind the curtain," she said. “I had always been so pleased with Scripps' commitment to care, and I didn't know if I wanted to see the intricacies of how it got there. My concerns were quickly swayed. I saw how decisions at the very highest levels were made with the patients in mind. Patient-centric is a term I hear at every meeting. ... I knew more than ever that I chose Scripps wisely as my healthcare provider."

Caldwell, who officially took on her new role as chair in mid-January, also knows how Scripps treats their patients first-hand. The institution treated her breast cancer 16 years ago.

Now, the treatments have gotten even better, Caldwell said.

In 2018, Scripps launched the Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center, which brings together the physicians of Scripps Health and the MD Anderson Cancer Center, a globally recognized leader in cancer care.

The partnership brings multi-disciplinary care teams that are sub-specialized by cancer types, cancer nurse navigators for newly diagnosed patients and adoption of MD Anderson's treatment protocols, which are among the most advanced in the world.

"It is going to be exciting to watch the board," Caldwell said. "We endorse the MD Anderson project enthusiastically. Scripps has a long legacy of serving the healthcare needs of San Diego County with excellent care. We treat more than 750,000 patients annually through the dedication of the 3,000 affiliated physicians, 15,000 employees and 2,100 volunteers across the county. I'm so proud of the powerful contributions made by this amazing group of people. It's listening in on these committee meetings and board meetings that really are encouraging to me, personally, how we're progressing and doing the right things for the right reason."

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