Health + Behavior

Retired prof, wife donate $2 million to attract top surgeons to UCLA

Thomas and Ellen Calcaterra aim to help defray city's high cost of living

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Living in Los Angeles costs roughly 20 percent more than in Chicago, 30 percent more than in New Haven, Conn., and a whopping 50 percent more than in Austin, Texas. The resulting sticker shock can discourage doctors from considering UCLA job offers and sway them toward rival academic medical centers in less pricey cities.
 
Even within the University of California system, where the 10 campuses share the same salary scale, UCLA faces a recruitment disadvantage due to Los Angeles' high cost of living. While UCLA salaries are competitive with other public universities, they lag behind those at private institutions.
 
To fight this surgical brain drain, Dr. Thomas Calcaterra, a UCLA professor emeritus of head and neck surgery, and his wife, Ellen Calcaterra, have donated $2 million to the Division of Head and Neck Surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA for the recruitment of future division chiefs and new faculty.
 
"This gift will allow UCLA to attract the country's top ear-nose-throat specialists and ensure that our division continues to expand and flourish," said Dr. Gerald Berke, current chair of head and neck surgery and one of more than 175 surgeons who trained under Calcaterra during his tenure at UCLA. "We are extremely grateful to Tom and Ellen for their vision and generosity to the UCLA family."
 
The goal of the new Thomas C. Calcaterra, M.D., Recruitment Fund for Head and Neck Surgery is to keep UCLA job offers competitive and to soften the economic obstacles of relocating to Los Angeles.
 
"California's coastline and warm weather offer an attractive draw, but the state's high cost of living diminishes its appeal," Calcaterra said. "When you pair an expensive city with mediocre pay, the combination makes it difficult to recruit and retain superior faculty. Ellen and I hope that our donation will level the playing field and enable the Division of Head and Neck Surgery to maintain its status as one of the foremost otolaryngology training programs in the nation."
 
"Los Angeles' high cost of housing and education discourages surgeons from outside the region," Ellen Calcaterra said. "People worry that they'll have to lower their standard of living to come here. One can't expect a candidate to parlay a $350,000 home in the Midwest into a $2 million residence on the Westside."
 
Calcaterra began his surgical training at UCLA's medical school in 1962. After completing his military service and his medical residency, he returned to UCLA in 1969, where he specialized in the surgical management of facial tumors, rhinology and sinusitis.
 
Ellen Calcaterra is an alumna of the UCLA Anderson School of Management. After earning her M.B.A. in 1981, she worked in the strategic planning department of the Atlantic Richfield Co. She obtained her real estate license 20 years ago and now specializes in real estate management, developing and consulting. The Calcaterras live in Brentwood, Calif.
 
"I was on the UCLA faculty for more than 35 years," Calcaterra said. "This donation is our way of returning something to a division that was very good to me."
 
The Calcaterras' endowment will provide leadership for surgical research in otoneurology, laryngeal and speech pathology, audiology, tumor genetics and immunology, photodiagnostic imaging, and interstitial laser therapy for head and neck cancers.
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