By Pamela Dozois

Contributing Writer


It’s difficult to say farewell to someone who is one of the Santa Ynez Valley’s last country doctors, someone who has dedicated his life to caring for local residents for nearly 40 years, but Dr. Alan Hersh will be retiring from private practice at the end of the summer.

He and his patients have many memories together, from the days in the 1980s when he first practiced in a tiny building on the grounds of Mattei’s Tavern to his current office on Village Lane in Solvang.

“I’ve traveled a long and rewarding road since those early days at the Country Clinic of Los Olivos, on the grounds of Mattei’s Tavern, to the Sansum Country Clinic of today. I’ve had the opportunity of living in a beautiful community with wonderful friends and acquaintances,” he said. “I’ve had the privilege and honor to provide medical care to the people of the Santa Ynez Valley over these last 38 years.

“I have been present as people have entered this world and also when they have left it. I have been able to treat four generations of the same family at the same time. I hope that I have been able to help people, and I can assure you that I have certainly learned from them,” Hersh said.

From early childhood, Hersh said, he wanted to be a doctor. There were no other doctors in his family, so the source of the idea remains somewhat of a mystery.

“It was probably from watching episodes of “Ben Casey” and “Dr. Kildare” on television that inspired that youthful choice. The doctors all wore really good-looking uniforms,” he joked.

“At age 5, I mentioned to my parents that I wanted to grow up and be a doctor. That idea was reinforced throughout my youth. For such a blind choice, made so many years ago, I have thoroughly enjoyed that choice,” he said.

When as a child people asked him kind of doctor he wanted to be, his answer was, “I want to be a doctor for poor people.” “How can you make any money then?” asked his parents. “I’ll use the cash registers” was his reply.

“Both of my grandfathers owned businesses and as a youngster I had learned early on how to push the ‘No Sale’ button on their cash registers. This was an unending source of cash for my youthful needs,” Hersh joked.

To fulfill his dream of becoming a doctor he completed four years of medical school and three years of residency at UCLA, graduating in June 1980.

He arrived in the Santa Ynez Valley directly out of medical school only because Dr. Lou Netzer offered him a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“I owe everything I have to Lou Netzer, professionally and personally. I never would have ended up here in the valley if it were not for Lou. He essentially handed me his practice. He wanted to leave it as his legacy. He was both my mentor and benefactor. Everything I have I owe to him,” Hersh said.

“I first met with Lou in December 1979. Three separate residents in my Family Medicine Residency at UCLA had met Lou at a guided imagery seminar in Yosemite,” recalled Hersh. “They each suggested that I contact him. They had heard that Lou was looking to sell his medical practice and my friend showed me a paper on which Lou had written a glowing description, using mostly superlatives, as was Lou’s way, describing the valley and his medical practice. My friend and I decided to drive up from LA and take a look. Lou basically offered me his ongoing practice and even his ‘ranch’ in Oak Trail Estates to live in as long as I needed it. I began my new practice at the Country Clinic on Aug. 1, 1980.”

A photo taken in 1990 on the grounds of Mattei’s Tavern shows the doctors and staff, in period dress, who ran the Country Medical Clinic in Los Olivos at that time. The three doctors seated in the front row are, from left, Jeff Shannon, Bob Gottesman and Alan Hersh.

“The Country Clinic of Los Olivos, as it was called then, was located in a building on the grounds of Mattei’s. It was barely 1,500 square feet and was filled with country cast-off furnishings from Mattei’s and antiques, such as old examining tables, memorabilia and the like, that Lou and Randy Herman, Lou’s partner, had amassed. It was indeed a country clinic,” Hersh continued.

“But California law requires the word ‘Medical’ to be included in the name, so we went from Country Clinic of Los Olivos to Country Medical Clinic. I practiced there for 11 years but we outgrew the space and in 1991 we moved to Solvang. But nine days before we were to move into the building, it burned down. So there was a six-month delay.”

“At the time I was in the process of publishing a book, building a new office and having my second child. The only thing that came on time was my daughter,” he joked.

Initially Hersh’s partners were Dr. Bob Gottesman and Dr. Jim Jaworski. When they moved on, Dr. Jeff Shannon joined him.

“Jeff and I ran the clinic. But running an independent family practice isn’t as easy or as profitable as you might think. The Medical Industrial Complex doesn’t ring my chimes,” said Hersh. “It became economically unfeasible to continue in a private family practice. Sansum understands that a family practice doesn’t pay for itself but it is essential to the industry, because it feeds the specialists.”

“In 2007 Jeff and I were acquired by Sansum, who rents the 5,000-square-foot office from us, using it as a satellite for Sansum. It just made good sense financially to join up with Sansum,” he explained.

“Overall the institutionalization of medical practice has been increasing over time, and I just feel it is time to leave,” Hersh said. “I’ve done this long enough and I’m ready to move on. I want to devote my time to my family, my friends, and personal development.”

Hersh is married to Katherine Koch, a licensed clinical social worker who recently retired. Their children are Jordan, 33, and Molly, 28. Neither pursued a medical career.

The Sansum Country Medical Clinic at 2027 Village Lane, Suite 102, in Solvang, will remain in good hands with Dr. Julia Billington, Dr. Miguel Loya, Dr. Kirin Mariwalla, Dr. Kevin Beckman and Nurse Practitioner Judith Rand.