ENCINITAS — Dr. James Quigley may have practiced medicine for another dozen years if not for a conversation he had with an older dentist.
“He asked me when I was going to retire,” said Quigley. “I said I didn’t know if I had enough money, and I’m giving him all these other reasons (to keep working) and he says, ‘Stop. If you don’t have enough money by now, shame on you. But probably whatever you have is enough.’”
But what the dentist said next resonated with Quigley.
“He told me, ‘What you don’t know is how much time you have.’” As Quigley recalled this statement, he became quiet. Late afternoon sunlight slanted through his office blinds at North Coast Family Medical Group.
“He made me start thinking about it,” Quigley continued, “about how hard we work. But a lot of guys start changing physically. I’ll be 64 next year and I keep thinking those next 10 years are a big deal.”
He wants to enjoy those years with his wife, Denise, his children and his granddaughter, he says, adding he would like to spend more time backpacking, biking and fly fishing. He’d like to learn Spanish, take photography classes, travel. And, he said, “I’ve got a few IOUs to the Good Lord, so I’ll do some charity work.”
So after 37 years as a doctor — 30 of those serving North County — Quigley is retiring at the end of the year.
“But I don’t think I’ll be sitting around watching daytime TV,” he joked. “If you just go from 50 to 60 hours every week to zero, that would not be good for a guy like me.” He’ll also be busy with the medical research company he opened in the 1990s, Encompass Medical Research North Coast.
“I’m a principal investigator,” he explained, researching treatments for diseases like diabetes.
While his schedule will be full, his patients will surely miss him, as they’ve already begun expressing to him. Shortly after Quigley sent out the announcement of his retirement, calling it “the most challenging letter I have ever written in my career,” he began receiving notes from his patients.
“Thank you for all the help during the last 30 years,” reads one. Others mention how much they value his ability to listen and put them at ease.
Tall and athletic with an easy smile, Quigley’s calm demeanor has reassured generations of patients. And his care for them is conveyed in that retirement letter: “I can never explain in words the honor it has been to care for each of you as patients and friends. You have shared your deepest secrets and hardships, your best stories and funny moments, and most importantly, you have entrusted me with your health. I have always taken that privilege and honor seriously and I am so very grateful for it all.”
In addition to his patients, he’s served the medical community as chairman of the Physicians Health and Well-Being Committee at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas since 1983. But he leaves a legacy beyond the medical community. He’s also a businessman who was one of the founders of the medical complex at 477 N. El Camino Real in Encinitas, an iconic complex fondly known to many residents as the “brick buildings.”
“I was one of three managing partners for the group that built this,” he says. “We had the vision for this center. We called it a hospital without beds … It’s got the surgery center and full-service radiology, the pharmacist and all the primary care doctors, and lots of others.”
Having that mind for business is important for doctors today within their medical practice, he says.
“There’s a business that doctors need to take into account,” he said. “Before it was more, ‘Let’s do whatever we can and figure out the problem.’” That likely meant spending a lot of money. “So you have to be aware of what you’re doing as far as how much you’re spending, which is good … Evidence-based medicine drives a lot of decisions now. That’s good and it’s bad. Sometimes it takes away the instinct to do a certain thing. But I’m pretty happy about where medicine is going right now. Would I recommend my children do it? I would. I love the job. It’s not like I’m leaving with any unhappiness at all.”
What other career, he wondered, would “allow a mailman’s son to spend his entire professional life listening to people’s most cherished and sometimes frightening stories and be asked to help find a solution to their problems?”
Quigley admitted that “it was often a daunting task” in his early years.
“It frequently left me with self-doubt if I was doing it right,” he added. “I guess as I look back, that fear is what kept me on my toes, keenly aware that I didn’t want to screw up because there was so much on the line for everyone. As the years passed that worry gave way to a sense of calm that is the confidence of having seen so much. I certainly gave it my best and I really do think most of my patients and my fellow physicians feel the same way.”
Certainly his friend and colleague of 30 years, Dr. James Hay, feels that way.
“(Dr. Quigley) is one of the warmest and kindest men I know,” said Hay, adding that he considers himself fortunate to have Quigley as his personal physician. “He’s almost unflappable.”
The strong bond the two share is apparent in the way each speaks of the other, and it’s surely contributed to the success of the medical group they helped found, North Coast Family Medical Group.
Shortly, Quigley will embark on the next phase of his life.
“The career goes fast,” he said. “All of a sudden you turn around and it’s 30 years later. But I just figure the next 10 or 20 years is going to go just as fast, so I’ll grab hold of the next stage of life and get going on it.”