Dr. Joan L. Voris was a modest, hardworking pediatrician who was tapped to head the UCSF Fresno Medical Education Program, and would go on to lead the institution through major changes during her tenure as the longest-serving associate dean in the history of the doctor training program.
Dr. Voris, 75, died Feb. 11.
In her 24 years as a UCSF faculty member and 12 years as associate dean of UCSF Fresno – from September 2002 to January 2015 – Dr. Voris oversaw the transition of the program from the old county-operated Valley Medical Center to the private, not-for-profit Community Medical Centers and the opening of the UCSF Fresno Center for Medical Education and Research.
Under her leadership, the number of faculty increased from 77 to 229, and the number of residents and fellows trained annually increased from 172 to 293, a 70 percent increase in doctors trained locally.
“She accomplished a lot in the quiet, closed doors of her office, one-on-one with people without a lot of fanfare,” said Dr. Michael Peterson, who served as chief of medicine for 14 years, interim associate dean for a year and last March was appointed associate dean to succeed Voris.
She accomplished a lot in the quiet, closed doors of her office, one-on-one with people without a lot of fanfare.
Dr. Michael Peterson, UCSF Fresno associate dean
“Her legacy will be the quality of this program,” Peterson said. “It continued to improve throughout the time she was associate dean.”
Dr. Gene Kallsen, a longtime UCSF Fresno faculty member and colleague of Dr. Voris, said Fresno benefited from her medical leadership long before she became associate dean. She became a member of the UCSF Fresno faculty in 1990, and in 1996 was president of the medical staff at Valley Medical Center when the county closed the hospital and signed a contract with Community Medical Centers for the care of patients who were indigent. There was no guarantee that the medical education program would transfer to Community, Kallsen said. But Dr. Voris helped facilitate the transition. “She was absolutely instrumental in making it successful.”
The Fresno medical education program is a clinical branch of the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine, and Kallsen said Dr. Voris elevated the Fresno program’s standing with UC colleagues. “She was such a smart, warm, caring kind of individual that she really did a lot to improve our relationship with the main campus.”
Dr. Voris was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. But her father, Albert T. Voris, a psychiatrist who had attended Stanford University, brought the family to Belmont, in San Mateo County, and Dr. Voris would grow up there. She graduated from Stanford University and earned a medical degree there in 1968.
She moved to Fresno in 1971 with her husband, Zirno Bezmalinovic, a pathologist. He died in 1997.
Dr. Voris’ first passion was caring for children, and while raising a son and twin daughters, she began covering for pediatricians in Fresno. In 1980 she began working at the Children’s Clinic at Valley Medical Center, which cared for children predominantly of low-income families. And at age 47, Dr. Voris began a pediatric residency program so she could become board certified in the specialty. “She was pulling all-nighters in residency training,” said son John Bezmalinovic, a Fresno lawyer.
She was pulling all-nighters in residency training.
Son John Bezmalinovic
Daughter Margaret Bezmalinovic, a Sacramento psychologist, said her mother had a long-term commitment to the underserved in the central San Joaquin Valley. “She worked longer hours than I did.”
Dr. Voris spent summers in rural Mexico, where she provided care to children. She followed in the footsteps of her husband, who collected outdated but functional medical equipment and took it to Bolivia to clinics and hospitals, Peterson said. “She picked up that same commitment and spirit to the people of Central and South America.”
Dr. Voris became known for her expertise in child sexual abuse, childhood obesity and childhood diabetes. The Fresno community recognized Dr. Voris for her many contributions. In 2010, the Marjorie Mason Center named her one of the Top Ten Professional Women, and she was awarded the Physician Community Service Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 by the Fresno-Madera Medical Society.
John Bezmalinovic said his mother’s death was not unexpected, but relatively sudden. She had been diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in 2012, but she had responded to treatment and the cancer was not the cause of her death, he said.
Peterson said up until last spring Dr. Voris was helping him with some of the administrative duties at UCSF Fresno.
She led the program through some of its biggest changes, Peterson said. “And she left behind a lot of very good providers for this community who will be here for decades to come.”
Dr. Joan L. Voris
Date of birth: Aug. 5, 1941
Death: Feb. 11, 2017
Survivors: Son, John Bezmalinovic, daughters Beatrice Bezmalinovic-Dhebar, Margaret Bezmalinovic; three grandchildren
Memorial: A remembrance will be held at 3:30 p.m. March 24 at UCSF Fresno center, 155 N. Fresno St.