Alison Mayhew had no designs on a career in the medical field when she applied for a job at Arlington Medical Associates in 1977.
She was 18 and needed work.
So when she got the call for a job in the X-ray department, she was happy to spend her days developing film.
But not satisfied.
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“I guess I’m just one of those people always looking for opportunities, always wanting to do something more,” said Mayhew.
She couldn’t have anticipated the career trajectory that her time in that darkroom would launch. Thirty-eight years later, she is the chief executive officer of what is now Family HealthCare Associates.
She has seen a lot of changes during that time.
“When I first started, you came in to the doctor’s office and you paid for your visit,” she said. “If you happened to have insurance, we would hand you a bill that you could take to your insurance company to get reimbursed.”
Now, almost all patients pay a copay and the clinic staff bills the insurance companies, which required additional staffing.
Within the last five years, the clinics have been transitioning from paper patient charts to electronic ones, a tedious process. “I think every primary-care physician would say that was the biggest change,” Mayhew said.
But she said she doesn’t get frustrated easily.
“For me, it’s probably about having enough time I feel I need just to do all the things I want to do,” she said. “I guess I’m just so used to things coming at you all the time — you eat the elephant one bite at a time.”
Passion for hobbies
“Driven” is a term commonly used to describe Mayhew. At 12, she started working in her parents’ business, Cozad’s Gifts at Six Flags Mall, from its opening in about 1971 until she took the first of several positions at the clinic in 1977.
“She’s pretty driven in everything she does,” said Judy Behlau, who met Mayhew through the friendship of their husbands. “She’s just one of those people that everything they do they do well.”
Mayhew has other passions, like antiques hunting and hiking in the Colorado mountains. Mayhew’s mother, Nancy Cozad, who died in 1994, was an antiques collector who frequented antiques auctions and got her daughter interested in the avocation.
Mayhew, Behlau and a half dozen friends go to Round Top, a town of 80 residents southwest of Austin and home to Round Top Antiques Week, rent a house and spend a weekend every year strolling and browsing along the long line of roadside vendors.
Mayhew loved Colorado so much that she moved her family there a few months after going to work for the clinic. But it was a short-lived diversion. She returned almost two years later and resumed work at the Arlington clinic.
“It was too expensive to live there,” she said. “You had to pay for those beautiful views of the mountains.”
Arlington Medical Center opened at 1300 S. Fielder Road in 1958, the year Mayhew was born. Four doctors combined their two practices to form the clinic. Office visits cost $3 at the time; house calls were $5.
“Today, office visits are over $100,” she said. House calls, of course, have taken their place in medical history.
The medical center had 11 physicians and about 35 employees at two clinics when she started work there.
In 1994, Arlington Medical merged with two other medical groups, in Dallas and Fort Worth, creating Family HealthCare Associates. Mayhew said it now has 56 physicians and 377 employees at 11 area clinics, including three in Arlington.
She started with no career plans, but she had energy and ambition. After three or four years in the darkroom, she said, she took a position in the insurance department. Then came a job in the central business office, and shortly after, she was named manager of that office.
“I met her at the clinic when I was pregnant with my daughter,” said Gayle Smith, a friend who also found her to be very compassionate — and “driven.” “Alison had a baby a year ahead of me, so she was very involved and very interested.”
If Mayhew’s career ambitions needed stoking, it happened in 1998 while attending her first conference of the Medical Group Managers Association, a national trade organization.
“After I came back from that meeting, I decided that if I was going to make healthcare a lifelong career, I needed a college degree,” she said. “But I thought, I’m 40 years old — can I do that?”
Back to college
She had 12 to 15 credit hours of college after graduating high school but quit when she started working. The first step was Tarrant County College, where she earned an associate degree in general business. Next came her bachelor’s quest at Concordia University, a Lutheran-based college based in Austin. Mayhew attended its Fort Worth campus, which offered the flexibility she needed.
“I was married and had two kids and working full time,” said Mayhew, who earned a degree in general business studies. “I had to take classes in the evening and weekends. I had to find a program that would accommodate my schedule.”
Her second college try had started at age 40 and finished at 50. But soon she would return for a third phase.
After graduating from Concordia, she went to work for the Health Texas Provider Network as the practice administrator for several clinics at the time; she had the same position with Family HealthCare Associates, overseeing its Tarrant County offices. But she didn’t see an opportunity to advance to the next level, the top administrative position of chief executive officer, which was held by Jean Irwin.
“I had worked at Family HealthCare for 25 years,” she said. “It was an extremely difficult decision for me to leave. Dr. Jim Anagnostis delivered both of my babies. We had people working there for 30 to 35 years; it was very much a family.”
Shortly after taking the job, her employer advised that her bachelor’s degree likely would not open the doors she wanted. “They wanted me to get a master’s degree if I wanted to move up.”
She resumed her college career, enrolling at Texas Woman’s University in Denton in 2006. Two years later, she had a master’s degree in business administration.
And she moved up. After 10 years at Health Texas Provider, she was vice president of revenue cycle when she got the call late year from Family HealthCare Associates about her dream job.
The call came with sad news; Irwin, Family HealthCare’s CEO, had died. The company was conducting a search for candidates.
“It was very unfortunate the way the opportunity presented itself,” said Mayhew, who went through three interviews before being offered the CEO position. “It was only job I would have left for. Many of the employees I worked with back then were still there.
“It felt like coming home,” she added. “And also like I was finishing something I started.”
Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641