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On the Job with: Phyllis Cheatom

Phyllis Cheatom retires in December after 43 years of service.

It’s mid-September, and 140 neuroradiologists are in town for a weeklong continuing medical education program. Morning and afternoon CME sessions are presented by Department of Radiology faculty; continental breakfast, refreshment breaks and luncheons, by Catering Services supervisor Phyllis Cheatom. Her morning:

5:30 a.m. Doctors Dining Room. Having risen at 3:30 a.m., then caught the No. 5 Cedonia/Johns Hopkins bus to Monument Street, Phyllis Cheatom is already at work, loading her cart with muffins, bagels and sliced pound cake.

5:40 a.m. Catering Office. Cheatom reviews the daily docket: a general surgery workshop, the Art of Healing Series, peds ED staff meeting, bridal shower, preceptors’ workshop, retirement party—a veritable snapshot of life in a big academic medical center. Cheatom’s take is more practical: “Anyone who wants to pay, we do it.”

5:45 a.m. Nutrition Storeroom. Pulling her cart behind her, Cheatom adds to her growing supply: six cases of soft drinks, a 48-ounce can of sliced peaches, a sack of granola. She’s headed for Turner, where she supervises the catered events.

5:50 a.m. Turner Kitchen. Assistants Jeanell Broadway and Vanessa Peterson are already at work, gathering supplies as quickly as they can. Everything must be ready by 6:30, even though the neuroradiologists are not due until 7.

The neuroradiologists are a relatively small group, compared to CME programs like Wilmer Residents Topics in Clinical Medicine, and the biggest of all, the one-day Mood Disorders Symposium, which draws upwards of 700.

None of it fazes Cheatom. “I’ll go up to 800 and be comfortable. I can handle 400 on the concourse. With more, I’ll go up on the second level. With four lines and two tables, I can serve 200 in 15 minutes.”

Cheatom fills in all around the institution when needed.

6:15 a.m. Turner Concourse. Just 15 minutes to go. Pitchers of apple and orange juice are wheeled out to the beverage tables; bowls of blueberry yogurt, cottage cheese and peaches, set down in ice; baskets lined with gold cloth napkins and filled with granola, boxed cereals and spreads, placed on royal blue tablecloths.

Over the years, Cheatom worked for some of the biggest names of Hopkins Medicine: Tumulty, Turner, Heyssel. “I came to know what they wanted. Back then, we had gorgeous tablecloths, flowers, china. We set the tables. Now things are scaled back,” she says, eyeing the styrofoam coffee cups with considerable disdain.

7 a.m. Showtime. Here they come: 140 neuroradiologists. As they queue up by the steaming urns of coffee, Cheatom surveys the scene with the deep sense of satisfaction only a veteran hostess can appreciate—that feeling of relief mixed with pride that comes when all the hard work is done and everything is ready at last.

—Anne Bennett Swingle



Johns Hopkins Medicine

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