The Greater Columbus community has benefited from Dr. Ian Baird’s medical skills for 50 years.
But Baird likely would have spent that half-century practicing in Scotland had it not been for an encounter in a Columbus hospital hallway late one night in 1967.
As was the custom for most British doctors-to-be at the time, Baird spent a summer working in America during his time as a medical student at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. He served his stint at Grant Hospital (now OhioHealth Grant Medical Center).
“One night about 3 a.m., I was seeing a young lad with asthma, and an angel in a white uniform walked down that hallway,” Baird said.
The angel’s name was Becky, a nurse and Worthington native. They began dating and were married by year’s end.
“He was very good looking and had a great accent, and he was pretty flirtatious,” Becky Baird said. “It was just a fun time.”
Ian Baird, 76, might say the same about his career, which ends upon his retirement Thursday, wrapping up exactly 50 years as an infectious disease doctor at the same hospital: OhioHealth Riverside Methodist.
The Bairds lived in Scotland for two-plus years after their marriage as Baird finished school, then stopped in New York for an internship before his residency at Riverside began on Oct. 1, 1971.
“You very rarely think of anybody who practices as a doctor seeing patients for 50 years, but Dr. Baird has,” said Joe Gastaldo, OhioHealth’s medical director of infectious diseases, who considers Baird a mentor.
Both Bairds say the reason Ian stayed in the field so long was the people.
“He really loves his work,” Becky said. “He loves seeing patients, and honestly, Riverside has become his second home. They have always been so supportive of him.”
Ian agrees, though he was a bit more low-key in his reason for working five decades.
“I still felt I was able to do the job satisfactorily, still able to get out of bed in the morning and go to work,” he said. “I always found it interesting and challenging. As an infectious disease doctor, I take care of everything from the tip of the head to the tip of the toes.
“It’s not like when you’re a kidney doctor or a heart doctor and you only work on kidneys or hearts. I get the brain and the feet and everything in between.
“And no matter how long you’ve been in it, you always see something new. Just recently, in fact, I saw my first case of leprosy.”
(Not to worry, Baird said, leprosy is highly treatable.)
His last year and a half, of course, has largely been spent dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
But over a 50-year career, Baird has seen plenty of other scary diseases emerge. Legionnaires’ disease was one of the first, he said (it was discovered in 1976), but dealing with the HIV/AIDS epidemic starting in the early 1980s was a defining chapter in his career.
“We went from 1982 until 1995 — 13 years — of being able to diagnose it and do crisis intervention, but the outcome was always bad,” Baird said. “Nowadays, if you have HIV, you can take medication and live as long as the next person.”
Becky recalls the AIDS epidemic as “a pretty hard time,” and added, “So many young people were dying, and he worked incredible hours, I think he touched many, many lives during that period.“
The COVID-19 pandemic has been the latest challenge, of course. Baird said the debate over vaccination is “disappointing.”
“The only thing that works is immunization,” he said. “Every death that occurs in this country from this date forward is completely preventable.”
Gastaldo said he and his colleagues made sure Baird worked from home before vaccinations became available.
But that isn’t Baird’s strong suit, Gastaldo said. Where he excels is dealing with patients.
“The mold that he came from as a physician is no longer being used to create physicians,” Gastaldo said. “If you think about his career, when he was being trained as a med student, the types of technology like CAT scans and MRIs didn’t exist. So his education was very much about being the physical exam expert, the clues you get from a detailed physical exam — having the patient stand up and move this way or do that. That art, or craft, is not there as much as it used to be.
“We have been, and continue to be, a better health care system because of him.”
In retirement, Ian said he plans to spend time with the couple’s two children and six grandchildren.
Son Hamish is an Upper Arlington resident and president of Remington-Davis Clinical Research, a company founded by Becky in 1992. Daughter Meghan lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio.
They also plan to travel, continuing their regular trips back to Scotland. And work in their flower gardens at their home just west of Upper Arlington, Becky said.
That suits Ian just fine. It means more time with his angel, even though neither will be wearing a white uniform anymore.
“She’s still absolutely gorgeous,” he said.